The harbor seal pupping season is getting underway and beachgoers will see more pups on our beaches appearing to be stranded. Mother seals will often leave their pups on the beach for several hours at a time while they’re foraging for food. It’s normal for seal pups to be alone on the beach. This does not mean they’re abandoned.
You may not see the mother offshore, but if she sees you near her pup, she may not think it’s safe to come back.
Meddling with the pups can have the opposite effect, if the mother smells people on her pup she might abandon it. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) says “there is no selfie stick long enough!”
As tempting as it might be to get that perfect shot of yourself or your child with an adorable seal pup, please do the right thing and leave the seal pup alone. Getting too close to a wild animal puts you—and the animal—at risk. Seals have powerful jaws, and can leave a lasting impression. When you get too close to a wild animal, you risk stressing or threatening it, and stressed animals are much more likely to act unpredictably.
Nursing pups remain with their mothers for four to six weeks, and then are weaned to forage and survive on their own.
Human disturbance near the pup may cause stress and delay the mother’s return because of natural wariness. The best thing you can do is leave the pup alone and keep your distance so its mom will return.
Seals and sea lions use shoreline habitat on a regular basis to rest and regulate their body temperature. If you see a seal pup, keep your distance. As a rule of thumb, stay at least 50 yards (150 feet) from seals. A curious seal pup might approach on its own, but the mother is likely to be nearby, and may see your interaction as a threat.
“The best thing you can do if you want to help is keep away from the animal and keep your pets away from it, so the mother has a chance to return,” says Mendy Garron, marine mammal stranding program coordinator for NOAA Fisheries Greater Atlantic Region.
All marine mammals are protected by law. You can be fined if you harass any marine mammal. If you see anyone handling or harassing a marine mammal, call the Office for Law Enforcement at 1-800-853-1964. If you believe a marine mammal is stranded or injured, or a seal pup has been alone for 24-48 hours, please call your local stranding network or NOAA’s stranding hotline at 206-526-6733.