Gray seals under fire on Cape Cod

Photo credit:  Amy Van Atten, NOAA
Photo credit: Amy Van Atten, NOAA

Great white sharks may not be the only predators local gray seals are facing this summer. Over the last six weeks, five adult gray seals were found shot on Cape Cod beaches from Dennis to Chatham. Biologists from the International Fund for Animal Welfare’s Marine Mammal Rescue and Research team discovered the cases in the course of standard stranding response efforts.

Given the large population of gray seals in this area, it is not uncommon to find stranded animals along the shore; however, these cases presented differently. In two instances, trained staff members recognized external wounds on the seals as gun shot wounds. As a result, all seal strandings are being more closely examined for evidence of human interactions, including gunshots.

“Although we cannot discuss the details of the cases, the bottom line is that the perpetrators are breaking the law and animals are suffering and dying as a result,” said Katie Moore, manager of the IFAW team.

While each case is examined on scene for forensic evidence, the most accurate evidence has come from CT scans and subsequent dissection and removal of the fragments. All ballistic evidence is currently being analyzed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Office of Law Enforcement (OLE) Special Agents. All five seals appear to have died as result of the gunshot wounds.

Gray seals are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. This federal law prohibits the harassment and killing of all marine mammals and violations can result in both civil and criminal penalties. “These animals are suffering greatly. We are taking these crimes very seriously and are strongly encouraging anyone with information to call,” said Special Agent Todd Nickerson of NOAA OLE.

If you see a live or dead stranded marine mammal, please report it to the IFAW stranding hotline at 508-743-9548. If you have any information regarding the above cases, please contact Special Agent Nickerson at 508-990-8752.


International Fund for Animal WelfareFounded in 1969, the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) saves animals in crisis around the world. With projects in more than 40 countries, IFAW rescues individual animals, works to prevent cruelty to animals, and advocates for the protection of wildlife and habitats. For more information, visit, or