As NOAA scientists conduct the annual spring harbor seal population survey, they are noting unusually high numbers of seal pups for this time of year.
Typically, harbor seals tend to give birth in May and June along the Northeastern U.S. coast, but this year harbor seal pups were reported as early as March.
“While it is not clear why the pupping season began so early this year, since harbor seals tend to use rocky islands, ledges or sandy beaches to give birth or just rest, chances of encountering a seal is greater, so it is really important that you don’t approach, handle or feed them,” 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 — with penalties for harassing these animals can be up to $50,000 and a year in jail — to pick up, handle or interact with free-swimming, dead or beached marine protected species. To report incidents of people or pets tormenting, disturbing or attempting to remove a seal from the beach, contact the NOAA Fisheries Enforcement Hotline (800) 853-1964.