OLD ORCHARD BEACH — Harbor seal pups look adorable, and though it’s tempting to approach them, officials from Maine Mammals of Maine are asking people to keep their distance from the cute creatures.

Though some may think a harbor seal alone on the beach is stranded or abandoned, it’s pretty normal for seals to be alone on the beach, said Dominique Walk, assistant stranding coordinator with Marine Mammals of Maine, an organization that responds to reports of and rescues marine mammals and sea turtles from Kittery to Rockland.

Harbor seal pups are typically born in April, May and the first half of June. Seal pups nurse for about three or four weeks, and early July is when beachgoers can run into newly weaned harbor seal pups that are learning how to fend for themselves.

It was recently reported that a month-old harbor seal had come out of the water at three different beaches, only to be physically dragged back in the water by a human each time. Putting a seal back in the water puts more stress on what already can be an exhausting transition for the young animal.

“They’re coming out of the water for a reason,” said Walk.

There have also been reports of seals being offered Rice Krispies Treats and other food, and there are documented accounts of people pouring water on seals or wrapping them in towels and dropping them in the water off of docks.

People may have good intentions, but these actions can be harmful to seals and in some cases fatal, Walk said.

Human food can give seals gastrointestinal problems, and moving them out of water can deny them of much needed rest.

Also a young seal pup that is alone on the beach is likely not abandoned by its mother, but resting while its mother is out looking for food. Baby seals, like baby humans, sleep a lot, Walk said. It’s normal for a baby seal to come ashore and rest while its mother forages for food, she said. Baby seals should not be moved, as their mother will not be able to find them when she returns from getting food.

In fact, not only is keeping your distance from a seal pup the best way to respect the animal, it’s also the law.

Under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, it is illegal to approach a seal within 150 feet, or to feed, handle or harass any marine animal. Those who violate this federal law could face steep fines.

If you find a marine mammal on the beach in Maine, report it by calling 800-532-9551. Do not approach it.

 

Liz Gotthelf — 207-780-9015

[email protected]

 


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