What to do if you see a stranded seal

While walking my dog on the beach in Sandwich this evening, I came across some beachgoers looking at something on the beach.  With Shanti on leash, I wandered a little closer to check out the situation.  Without getting too close, I could see the “something” was a young seal pup.


I called the IFAW Marine Mammal Rescue and Research Program.  They are permitted to respond to stranded animals.  As a trained, authorized volunteer with IFAW, I went a little closer to report on the animal’s condition.  (Some beachgoers held Shanti for me – dogs and seals should be kept away from each other for both of their safety.)

IMG00070-20100124-1654The seal was a gray seal pup, in good body condition, alert and vocal.  It had it’s “lanugo” coat – a fluffy light gray coat these animals are born with.  It’s umbilicus, however, was fully healed.  This told me the animal was between ten days and one month old.

Because it was near dark and the pup was feisty and robust, Misty at IFAW decided to leave it on the beach overnight and check on it again in the morning.  Gray seal pups are weaned as young as 14 days.  As small as the pup seemed, it was old enough to be on its own and leaving it on the beach was giving it a chance to make it on its own.

Be well, young seal, and prosper.

So what should you do if you see a seal on the beach?
~ Stay at least 50 yards away.  If the seal reacts to your presence, you’re too close.
~ Ask other people to stay away, and keep dogs at a safe distance.
~ Observe the animal from a distance, note it’s size, weight, markings, body condition, and whether or not there are any wounds.  If you have a camera or camera phone, take a photo.
~ Note your location and any significant landmarks nearby.
~ Call the authorized stranding network organization.  It is illegal – and dangerous – for untrained people to get too close to seals.  On Cape Cod, call the IFAW Marine Mammal Rescue Hotline at (508) 743-9548.  Elsewhere, check out this map from NOAA to find the authorized respondent in your area.  If you can’t find the number, call your local animal control or police department; they will have the number of folks who can help.
~ Follow the stranding network personnel’s instructions.

Remember that seals periodically come out of the water to rest on the beach.  This is normal and, in fact, necessary for seals.  Unless an animal is clearly in distress, most stranding networks prefer to leave an animal on the beach for at least an overnight in order to see if the animal will leave on its own.

One day soon the National Marine Life Center’s new marine animal hospital will have pools to care for seals that are sick and injured.  Click here to help.