Seals prefer a cold-water environment, and often travel south from subarctic areas in the winter months, and return north during summer months. Seals are seasonal visitors to the Mid-Atlantic during the winter, and will travel as far south as North Carolina.
Seals are semi-aquatic, which means they like to spend part of the time in the water, and part of the time on land. They will typically spend multiple days swimming, only to haul out on beaches, rocks, or docks to rest for 24 hours or more. Seals will also haul out on exceptionally stormy or sunny days, to wait out the stormy seas, or soak up some warm sun.
If you’re lucky enough to see a seal on the beach, it’s best to give the animal lots of space (100 feet, or about the length of six standard cars), and stay downwind of the animal if possible. Disturbing the animal, by making the animal change locations or flee back into the water, is against the law, as all marine mammals are federally protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
A healthy, resting seal will typically be resting in a “banana” position on its side with its head or rear flippers in the air.
A seal that is entangled in marine debris or has physical wounds and may need medical attention will often be resting flat on its stomach.
If you see a seal that may be in need of medical attention, please call the National Aquarium’s Stranding Hotline at 410-373-0083, or Maryland’s Natural Resources Police at 1-800-628-9944.
By all means, enjoy watching the seals and take plenty of pictures, but please do not disturb them—they have had a long commute!
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