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Monday, March 14, 2011

Arctic Seals Seen in Northeast Waters

Spring is Pupping Season for Seals
NOAA reported today that there has been a large influx of harp seals into Northeast region waters. Harp seals typically are found from the Arctic to the southeast coast of Atlantic Canada, but they have been known to venture much further south.

"In the spring, the Western North Atlantic harp seal population migrates to the waters around Newfoundland and Gulf of St. Lawrence to give birth to their young on pack ice," said Gordon Waring, who leads the seal program at NOAA's Northeast Fisheries Science Center (NEFSC) laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass. "However, in the past few years, we've seen an increasing number of adult and juvenile harp seals in U.S. waters from Maine to New Jersey in the spring." 

So far this year, the most southerly reported sightings have occurred off North Carolina, while last year there were seven harp seal sightings reported off Virginia during this same time period. Two juvenile harp seals recovered from New York beaches by the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation were fitted with satellite tags in February. As of March 7, these animals were reported to be in the deep waters of Hudson Canyon, having travelled distances of 213 miles and 155 miles respectively.

"Harp seals, like other more common harbor and gray seals found in local waters, shouldn't be approached or disturbed," said Mendy Garron, marine mammal stranding coordinator for the Northeast Region of NOAA Fisheries Service "Even though they look cute, these are wild animals and getting too close puts the animal, humans and pets at risk."

A disturbed seal can bite and even transmit diseases like distemper virus or rabies to humans and pets. In other instances, a disturbed seal may abandon its pup to flee an approaching human or dog.

Under federal law it is illegal and punishable by law to pick up, handle or interact with free-swimming, dead or beached marine protected species. This includes seals, whales, dolphins, porpoise, sea turtles and manatees. Penalties for harassing these animals can be up to $50,000 and a year in jail.

What to do when encountering a sick or abandoned seal on a beach:
  • Stay at least 150 feet away from it. Pup's mothers may be just around the corner.
  • Don't handle it, and keep other people and dogs away. Call NOAA Fisheries Service's stranding hotline at 1-866-755-NOAA (6622), or a local marine mammal stranding network member or visit NOAA's Northeast Region website (http://www.nero.noaa.gov/prot_res/stranding) for local contact information. To report violations or for more information on NOAA's Office of Law Enforcement call the toll-free number: 1-800-853-1964.