So here we are in winter and, though it hasn’t happened yet, someone soon will call The Maritime Aquarium with great alarm to report a seal on a beach. Or to tell us that they have a home on the water and there’s a seal sitting in their backyard.
First of all, this is good. This is no complaint. We love that people are concerned and inspired to seek help for animals they encounter.
So let this entry just serve as a friendly reminder that you shouldn’t be surprised to see a seal. There are seals in Long Island Sound each winter, even here off Fairfield County in the Sound’s western basin. They’re mostly harbor seals and gray seals, but occasionally Arctic species – such as harp and hooded seals – are seen too.
The seals migrate down here each winter from Nantucket Sound, the Gulf of Maine and other parts up north, and will spend the colder months just off our shores.
And sometimes on our shores.
That’s because, unlike dolphins and whales, seals can come up out of the water. Sometimes, for quite a while.
Seals rest by hauling themselves up onto rocks and shoals that are exposed at low tide. Lounging on these oases out in the water, they have little cause for concern, save for a passing oyster boat or warmly dressed kayakers.
But seals often will come up onto shorelines to rest too. And that’s where they’re more likely to encounter people – well-meaning people who stay their distance. But, troublingly, also their dogs that won’t keep back.
What then should you do if you see a seal on the beach or in your yard? The best thing to do is just give it time and distance. Don’t approach it for five reasons: 1) if it’s resting, then let it rest; 2) seals are federally protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which prohibits disturbing them; 3) they bite; 4) if it is sick, the last thing it needs is stress and fear from your attention, no matter how softly you speak to it; and 5) if it is sick, it possibly may share its illness with you.
So your initial response should be: do nothing. If after a day, the seal is still there, then there may be something wrong. Call Mystic Aquarium, which is home to the marine-mammal stranding responders for Connecticut, at (860) 572-5955.
If the animal is in a public area, we also recommend calling your town police department. They (or the town Animal Control officer) will help to safeguard the seal until Mystic biologists can arrive and determine if it needs aid.
Oh and the very best way to see the seals that visit the Sound is to come out on one of The Maritime Aquarium’s Winter Creature Cruises, offered on many weekends now through mid-March. For the schedule and more details, go to www.maritimeaquarium.org.