NOAA Fisheries Reminds Beachgoers To Avoid Harassing Seals -- May 21, 2002 2002/05/21 Beachgoers Reminded Not To Harass Seals

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Seals That Appear To Be Stranded

Are Often Simply

Hauled Out To Rest

Mark Oswell
(301) 427-2300


NMFS Northeast Region

N         E         W         S

Gloucester, Mass., -- With the on-set of summer, increasing numbers of seals are being spotted on beaches and rocks along the New England coast. While these seals may appear to the casual observer as being stranded, sick, injured or abandoned, they are usually just "hauled out" on shore. The term "hauled out" refers to when a seal comes out of the water to rest, avoid predators, give birth, care for their pups, or moult (the annual shedding of old hair). The National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries) reminds people to observe seals from a safe and responsible distance to protect the health and safety of both seals and humans.

"Harbor seals are beginning to pup at this time of the year, and the female seals often leave their pups on shore to forage for food. People who try to approach the seals can unintentionally scare the females from returning to their pups," said Dana Hartley, a biologist with the Protected Resources Division at the NOAA Fisheries Northeast Regional Office. "People also sometimes mistakenly believe a pup is abandoned and take it from the beach. Separating pups from their mothers can have a detrimental effect on the individual animals as well as the population."

"We are concerned about people who try to either force seals back into the water because they think the animals are in trouble, or remove seals from the beach because they think the animals are sick or hurt," said Special Agent Chris Schoppmeyer, from the NOAA Fisheries Office for Law Enforcement - Northeast Division. "Unfortunately, the good intentions of some people may not be in the seals' best interest, and may result in a violation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act."

The Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 (MMPA) is a federal law that was established to protect seals and all species of marine mammals. Under the MMPA and its corresponding regulations, it is illegal to harass or feed marine mammals in the wild. Violations of the MMPA can result in civil penalties of up to $12,000 and criminal fines of up to $20,000 and jail time.

"Marine mammal stranding networks are authorized by NOAA Fisheries to respond to marine mammals in need of assistance," said Dr. Janet Whaley, the National Marine Mammal Stranding Coordinator for NOAA Fisheries Office of Protected Resources. "Stranding network members have special training and expertise for responding to sick or injured marine mammals. People should notify the proper authorities if they encounter a sick or stranded animal. Distressed animals can be dangerous and bite, and should only be handled by trained professionals."

If people find a seal entangled, struck by a vehicle or boat, or otherwise visibly injured, NOAA Fisheries requests that they contact the toll-free Office for Law Enforcement hotline at 1-800-853-1964 or the nearest stranding network member. In New Hampshire, contact the New England Aquarium at telephone (617) 973-5247.

In order to avoid causing harassment of seals, NOAA Fisheries' Seal Watching Guidelines recommend that people observe the animals from a safe distance of at least 50 yards, limit viewing time to 30 minutes or less, avoid making loud noises or abrupt movements, and keep pets on a leash.

NOAA Fisheries is dedicated to protecting and preserving our nation's living marine resources through scientific research, management, enforcement, and the conservation of marine mammals and other protected marine species and their habitat. To learn more about NOAA Fisheries, please visit

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