UPDATE…Harbor seals are still
visiting seashore beaches
By IRENE NOLAN
Although the cold and windy weather has kept fishermen away, there was
one fat and happy visitor enjoying the beach at Cape Point this morning.
This visitor was a harbor seal, one of about 20 that have come ashore
to rest and sun on seashore beaches this winter, according to Michelle
Bogardus, a Park Service biologist.
“That guy is nice and fat and healthy and happy,” she said,
although she noted that she really can’t tell if a guy or a gal.
Bogardus said the seal may well be one that was reported on a northern
Hatteras Island beach yesterday but was never located. She thinks maybe
he headed south to the Point.
The seals visiting seashore beaches, she said, are juvenile harbor
seals, no more than a year to year and a half old. Most hang
around for a couple weeks to rest and sun and move on.
She thinks there are still about a half dozen, including several on
Ocracoke who are hanging out together. Harbor seals, she said,
are usually solitary animals.
Holly West Smith of Frisco got a call from a friend this morning who
urged her to bring her camera and head to Cape Point to see the
seal. Smith said she got going so fast that she didn’t
realize she still had her pajama bottoms on.
She snapped plenty of pictures of the visitor, which you can see on the slide show at the end of this article.
Smith shot the photos with a new zoom lens, which brings us to Bogardus’ warnings about seals.
As cute as they are, you should never approach them or get close to
them. Looking and enjoying them is fine – from a distance.
By law, you must stay 50 meters, or about 160 feet away from this marine animal.
And closer interaction could be bad for the seals and bad for humans.
Bogardus said the seals can be stressed by too many visitors who get
too close. That might cause a seal that needs rest for one reason or
another to head back into the water before it is ready to.
And seals carry diseases that humans can catch – rabies and a very nasty strain of herpes.
If you see a seal on the beach, it’s probably healthy and happy,
especially if it’s doing the “banana” – lifting
its head and tail simultaneously.
If you are concerned about a seal, you can call Michelle Bogardus at 216-6892.
She would also like you to call her if you find stranded sea turtles, dolphins, or whales.
Click Here To View Slide Show
Letters To The Editor From March 3, 2009
Seals on the seashore beaches
The seal in Holly's slide show looks wounded -- a hole in its side and
a damaged flipper. What do you think? Maybe not so fat and happy
While I appreciate the pix of the harbor seal, is it me or does this
seal appear to have some sort of puncture wound to its left side and if
so was it reported to NPS?
As a sidenote, the IFP is great for those of us north of that notorious Mason / Dixon line.
Note: The following is an answer to these questions from Michelle
Bogardus, lead sea turtle and marine mammal biologist for the Cape
Hatteras National Seashore:
Irene Nolan from Island
Free Press forwarded me your comment about the pictures of the harbor
seal at Cape Point the other day. This animal has been seen several
times over the past week, and we have continued to monitor its health.
The wound on the animal's left side was originally some minor cause of
concern, but on closer inspection of the wound, it was found to be very
shallow, and the decision was made to leave the animal in place. We
generally do not interfere with seals unless we believe that they are
in need of immediate rehabilitation. Additionally, the juvenile animals
that we commonly see in North Carolina are prone to having scrapes,
bruises, etc. This animal has good overall body condition and was
behaving well (a good sign). Since these pictures were taken, the wound
has somewhat healed, and has not affecting the animal's ability to feed
or behave normally.)
January 30, 2009
Seals are the rock stars on wintertime beaches
By JORDAN TOMBERLIN
because the beaches aren’t teeming with fishermen, surfers, and
sun-worshipers this time of year certainly doesn’t mean they’re
lifeless. In fact, the seashore attracts some pretty interesting
visitors in the winter.
Some of the most interesting, and by far
the cutest, off-season visitors are the seals that come here to feed,
molt, and rest on the beaches.
“There are seals everywhere,”
said Michelle Bogardus, lead sea turtle biologist for the National Park
Service, “and they’re really cool animals.”
Seals spend most of
their time in the water, looking for food, and, not unlike human
visitors to the island, they come to the beaches in search of a little
rest and relaxation.
Most of the seals that stop here are young harbor seals, though the occasional harp, gray, or hooded seal will come along.
Unfortunately, just because they’re cute, doesn’t mean they’re friendly.
not trying to make anybody dislike seals,” Bogardus said, “but they are
wild animals, they can be pretty aggressive, and they do pose serious
health risks to humans and pets.”
If you get too close to a seal, it will bite you, and, according to Bogardus, they bite hard.
But it’s not just the pain of the bite that you have to worry about.
carry a particularly nasty strain of the herpes virus,” she warned,
“and they can also have rabies,” both of which can be transferred to
humans and pets through a bite.
Close contact with humans and
pets is tough on the seals, as well. The seals that come here are
effectively teenagers, Bogardus says. They’re often in pretty rough
shape, and they’re usually looking for rest. Approaching the
seals causes them to go back to the water, and “coming in and out of
the water a lot can exhaust them and diminish their health.”
Not to mention that, under state law, seals have to be put down if they bite.
that doesn’t mean you can’t go seal-watching. Seal-watching is
completely acceptable, even encouraged, as long as it’s done
responsibly. The animals are protected under the Marine Mammal
Protection Act, which requires that people keep themselves and their
pets at least 50 meters from the seals at all times.
says any seal that assumes the “banana pose,” where it lifts its head
and back flippers off the sand and curls up like a banana, is a fat,
happy, and healthy seal. It’s a playful pose and is ideally what you
want to see.
And while she stresses that it’s completely
normal for these seals to look a little banged-up— bumps and bruises
and cuts, etc.—any seal that has deep lacerations or fishing nets on
it, or any seal that looks extremely thin or has deep wounds, should be
reported to the Park Service.
It would be nice if all visitors
were as cute, playful, and healthy as the seals, but, unfortunately,
winter brings a lot of stranded sea turtles to the shore, as well.
the beaches for stranded sea turtles may not be one of the happiest
activities, but it's probably one of the most important. Sea turtles
are one of the most mysterious and endangered creatures that visit
these islands, and, since we know so little about them, every
opportunity for study is crucial to our understanding.
the time, though not always, the turtles that wash ashore here are
already dead. The Park Service reported approximately 80
strandings during November and December, with only 20 to 25 live
turtles, and only three or four live strandings of the estimated 22 in
While finding live strandings presents some exciting
opportunities, not only for education but also for the rehabilitation
and release of the animals, locating all stranded turtles, including
those that are already dead, is equally important.
For example, Bogardus reports, “We’re getting lots of Kemps’ right now.”
Kemp’s ridley is considered one the most critically endangered of all
the sea turtle species,” she said, adding that recording and examining
each specimen can help researchers gain a better understanding of the
numbers and condition of the Kemp’s ridley population.
rangers and volunteers patrol the beaches for strandings each day, but
Bogardus asks that visitors and residents report any and all strandings
they happen to see.
Between responding to sea turtle strandings,
trying to keep track of the harbor seals, and in just a few weeks,
preparing for bird nesting season, the Park Service has a lot on its
plate this time of year.
“Whoever said winter is a slow season was mistaken,” Bogardus said.
(To report stranded turtles or concerns about seals, call National Park Service biologist Michelle Bogardus at 216-6892)