Migrating Seals Make First Appearance

Migrating Seals Make First Appearance

OCEAN CITY- With the throes of winter in full force, migrating seals are starting to make their first appearances on the beaches in and around the resort area as they always do, but residents and visitors are advised to keep a safe distance from the intrepid guests.

Each winter, migrating seals of various species and sizes pass through the mid-Atlantic region as part of their normal migratory patterns and more than a few haul out on the beaches in and around Ocean City and Assateague. The first unofficial migrating seal was seen on the beach in Ocean City this week. Many are simply resting or sunning themselves along their journey, while others are ill or injured.

In either case, the seals present an adorable opportunity for residents and visitors to enjoy them from afar, but interaction with humans and even their pets can often have dangerous consequences. To that end, the Maryland Coastal Bays Program (MCBP) is ramping up its seal steward program.

The MCBP and the National Aquarium Marine Animal Rescue Program (MARP) several years ago partnered to launch an outreach program on responsible seal viewing and sighting reporting. Out of that partnership was born a highly successful seal steward program in place for the last few winters. The program represents an “on call” opportunity for volunteers.

When a seal hauls out, seal stewards will be contacted to see if they are available to man the haul-out area to make sure beach and dog walkers keep a safe distance to protect both the walkers and the seal. Educational material and information is provided at each haul-out so that stewards can inform interested onlookers.

The first instinct for many who come across a seal hauled out on the beach, or in some cases along docks and piers, is to get close to the affable creatures and take pictures and even touch them in some cases. However, despite their outward appearance, seals can present dangers to humans and their pets.

Their dog-like faces and lumpy bodies make seals adorably appealing and seemingly approachable, but an up close and personal encounter with a seal can cause serious stress to the animal and create a dangerous situation for both people and the seal.

With most haul-outs, the seals are merely resting during their migratory pattern. When a seal lays on a beach it is hauling out, which is a normal behavior with pinnipeds of temporarily leaving the water between periods of foraging activity for sites on land. Hauling out is also necessary for seals for mating, giving birth, avoiding predators, thermal regulation, parasite reduction and even social activity. However, the latter shouldn’t include interaction with humans and their pets on the beach.

As the seals in the local area are temporary visitors, their hauling out here is primarily for rest or distress. Therefore, close encounters by humans and dogs put both at risk. Seals will bite and serious infections can be transmitted to you or your pet. It’s important to note visiting seals are federally protected, so residents and visitors who encounter a seal on the beach or on a dock or pier are advised to stay at least 50 yards away from them.

Anyone who encounters a seal on the beach this winter is urged to call MARP’s direct line at (410) 576-3880 so a trained observer can evaluate the condition of the animal to determine if it is just doing its normal activity or if it is in distress. Seal sightings can also be registered on the MCBP website at www.mdcoastalbays.org.

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.