Yes Virginia, we do have seals on our coasts!
A seal on the beach or land should appear
curved, like a banana.
A seal on land without this natural curve may
be injured or need medical care.
Each winter, the Virginia Aquarium Stranding Response Team handles dozens of calls about seals on the beaches, docks and piers of the Virginia coast. Sightings of seals have increased dramatically in the last ten years and many of the seals we see appear to be healthy and do not need our intervention, but they do need to be left alone!
Wild, healthy seals regularly rest on land. We call this behavior “hauling out”. When seals are hauled out, they need rest and should not be disturbed. Many of the seals that come to Virginia are young animals that are still learning to be independent. They may not be as good at staying out of trouble as older animals. This may result in cuts and bruises that look bad, but in actuality, are no worse than the cuts and bruises a person may get.
Sometimes, seals are in need of assistance. Sick and injured animals are candidates for recovery, rehabilitation and eventual release. The Virginia Aquarium Stranding Response Team has a permit and is trained to handle and treat seals and functions as part of the National Marine Mammal Stranding Network operated by NOAA Fisheries (http://www.noaa.gov). If we cannot determine whether a seal is in need of help, we often monitor it for 24 to 48 hours to assess its condition. In these cases you may see a sign or a Team member observing or photographing an animal. If a seal is obviously compromised, and it is unlikely to survive on its own, we will intervene and attempt rehabilitation. We try not to intervene until we are certain an animal needs help.
If a seal is constantly disturbed and must continue going back into the water, it won’t get the rest it needs to stay healthy. Also, SEALS ARE WILD ANIMALS! No matter how cute and docile they may look, they still have very sharp teeth and will bite if feeling threatened.
If you see a seal, please, immediately call the Virginia Aquarium Stranding Response Team at (757)385-7575. We will ask you a series of questions to help us determine whether the seal is in need of help or if it should be left alone to rest undisturbed.
Please follow the guidelines below when you encounter a seal on land:
- Keep people and pets away from resting seals! Keep pets on leashes and give seals a wide berth of 150 feet or more so they can rest undisturbed.
- Do not walk between a resting seal and its access to water. If you have to walk around a seal, walk on the land side and avoid blocking its exit route.
- Be quiet around a resting seal! Loud or sudden noises will disturb them.
- Never approach closely! Wild seals can carry diseases and parasites that you or your pet could get if bitten.
- Never offer food to a wild seal! Seals are wild animals and feeding them not only allows them to lose their natural fear of humans, but is also illegal under the Marine Mammal Protection Act and could carry a hefty fine.
- Report seal sightings to the Virginia Aquarium Stranding Response Team! Call us at (757)385-7575, we are available every day.
- Enjoy the view! Seals are beautiful wild animals. Enjoy them from a distance and respect their need to stay wild.