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When seals are mentioned, a fond picture usually comes to mind: big, lovable eyes, long, bristling whiskers on a twitching snout, and a fat, cuddly body. As adorable and welcoming as they look, for both your and the seals’ safety, they should be left to frolic with other seals, never with humans or pets.

You shouldn’t approach and pick up or pet a seal or seal pup. To come within 150 feet of a marine mammal, is in violation of the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972. If your behavior changes their behavior, you’re in violation of the act. Half a football field of distance is mandated by law, and in certain cases, more than that. In short:

A Gray Seal lounging on the beach - photo courtesy of Bill Schley

A Gray Seal lounging on the beach – photo courtesy of Bill Schley

  • Do not swim with seals
  • Do not feed seals
  • Be mindful of where you boat and  fish, as loud noises can startle the animals and they can easily become entangled
  • Be mindful of where you canoe or kayak, as the crafts may still elicit an alarm response
  • Keep pets on leashes
  • Limit your viewing time to 30 minutes to help keep the animals stress-free

Seals, especially pups, can often look abandoned and lonely when lying solitarily on the beach. Often, they’re either resting or waiting for their mother to return from feeding. Not only do seals frequently rest on beaches, but it’s also important to note that mothers can abandon their pups if they feel that there is an unwelcome presence nearby. Distinguishing friend from foe can be difficult. Though they may be curious, it is your job to enforce limits for their sake.

In cases of entanglement, please do not try and help the animal. Entanglement experts strongly urge you to resist the natural urge to help the animal – if untrained, you can cause them serious harm. Furthermore, boaters do not have the legal authority to perform disentanglements or touch another person’s fishing gear. If you feel a seal is injured or in danger and needs help, call the New England Aquarium at 617-973-5247 (appropriate for Maine and New Hampshire as well).  If you spot an entangled animal, please call Marine Animal Entanglement Hotline at 1-800-900-3622; report the entanglement as soon as you see it, note the time and coordinates of the animal’s location, and be prepared to stand by until responders arrive.

Additionally, remember that while you may see a seal as a cute critter, sharks see them as high-calorie meals. Sharks remember the site of their last meal, so when around known sites of seal congregation stay alert and stay away. It’s in everyone’s best interests to keep the wild in wildlife and admire seals from a distance.

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