Harbor, grey, and harp seals are commonly seen on many of New York’s saltwater beaches and estuaries at this time of year, and it is normal to see seals in large groups or alone on the beach.
Seal pups are also commonly seen alone on beaches when their mothers temporarily leave to hunt, or once they are fully weaned and foraging for the first time on their own.
Seals and other marine mammals, including whales, dolphins, and porpoises, are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, a federal law that mandates people keep an appropriate distance from animals to ensure they are not disturbed and to keep the public safe.
Interacting with a seal pup can result in the abandonment of the pup when the mother thinks it is unsafe to return. When seals are not hunting in the water, they spend the majority of their time resting on saltwater beaches, rocks, and sandbars, which is referred to as “hauling-out.” This behavior is essential for seals to rest, socialize, and regulate body temperature.
If stressed and forced back into the water, seals can drown. You can help keep seals safe by allowing them space and time they need on the beach.
While staying at least 150 feet (50 yards) away from seals, if you notice your presence is changing the seal’s behavior, you should move further away. Signs of stress in seals include raising their flippers, showing their teeth, yawning, and eating sand and rocks. Seals are wild animals with sharp teeth and can be dangerous and potentially share diseases.
If you see a seal, reporting it to DEC’s Flipper Files digital survey, which is used to better understand seal distribution in New York. Observations of animals that appear to be injured or sick should be reported to the New York Stranding Hotline at (631) 369-9829. The stranding hotline is monitored by the New York Marine Rescue Center and Atlantic Marine Conservation Society who are properly trained to handle marine mammals and work collaboratively with NOAA and DEC to respond to strandings.
DEC and Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (State Parks) encourage New Yorkers to engage in responsible recreation during the ongoing COVID-19 public health crisis. While enjoying the outdoors, please continue to follow the CDC/New York State Department of Health guidelines for preventing the spread of colds, flu, and COVID-19:
- Recreate locally (use the hashtag #recreatelocal).
- Keep at least six (6) feet of distance between you and others.
- Avoid close contact, such as shaking hands, hugging, and kissing.
- Wash hands often or use a hand sanitizer when soap and water are not available.
- Avoid surfaces that are touched often, such as doorknobs, handrails, and playground equipment.
Photo of Harbor Seal in Sag Harbor courtesy Alyssa Lefebvre.