BELMAR, NJ — With seals venturing onto Jersey Shore beaches in recent weeks, the Marine Mammal Stranding Center is cautioning people to stay a safe distance away — and that means keeping at least 150 feet back, which is about the length of three school buses.
“Recently there have been several cases of people and their dogs getting far too close to seals, endangering the seals and themselves,” according to officials at the Brigantine-based center.
With “seal season” in full swing, seals are more likely to “haul out on land”— or come onto a beach — to get much-needed rest after hunting and swimming long distances. And now that warmer weather is bringing more people to the beach, the seals are at greater risk of being disturbed.
“The presence of people and dogs nearby causes stress and may force a seal back into the water before it is ready,” the center said in a release. “It is important to remember seals are predators with sharp teeth and will not hesitate to bite, and seals carry communicable diseases that can be passed on to you or your dog.”
Adding to these concerns, MMSC reported that several amateur and professional photographers have been flooding social media groups with photos and videos of seals taken at a close distance, revealing exact locations of resting animals on the beach.
“This has attracted crowds around resting seals, causing further disturbance and harassment of the animals. A video has even surfaced of someone touching a seal,” the center said. As a result, seven healthy seals have had to be relocated to remote beaches — the most recently being March 15 — due to the “harassment by people and off-leash dogs.”
The center also noted that since seals are federally protected animals under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, it is illegal to disturb their natural behaviors.
Currently, MMSC is caring for two seals at its facility, including an injured and underweight gray seal found stranded on the snow-covered Belmar beachfront on February 11.
After more than a month in recovery, the seal is doing fantastic, said MMSC education and volunteer coordinator Michele Pagel. “She is eating very well — about 9 pounds of food every day — and is gaining weight. We are anticipating she will be ready to be released toward the end of the month.”
Marine Mammal Stranding Center is a nonprofit organization that has responded to more than 5,600 calls for seals, dolphins, whales and sea turtles that have washed ashore along all of New Jersey’s beaches since 1978. For more information, including the latest stranding statistics, current patient updates and how to become a member or donate, visit its website by clicking here.
To report sighting of a seal or other marine animal, call the Marine Mammal Stranding Center’s 24-hour hotline at 609-266-0538.