locals know, one of the best aspects of combing the Cape Hatteras
National Seashore beaches in the wintertime is the prospect of spotting
a seal that has popped up along the shoreline.
although those who are unfamiliar with the sight may initially be
concerned that the beached seal is in trouble, the seals are, in fact,
just “hanging out” for a while to enjoy a rest and an impromptu beach
trip before heading back into the water.
year, the seals have -- finally -- come back for their annual Hatteras
Island vacation, as evident by reports from National Park Service
technicians who have spotted several seals in the past few days,
including three to four last week and a harbor seal on Monday
photo of Monday’s seal was posted to the Cape Hatteras National
Seashore’s Facebook page on Monday afternoon and has already garnered
hundreds of likes and shares from island fans who are happy to see that
the seals are “back.”
It’s a late arrival, to be sure.
to Randy Swilling, the Park Service's natural resource program manager,
the seals usually hit the beach in December, as the waters get cold
enough for them to head all the way down to the North Carolina
year, however, with unseasonably warm temperatures, the seals have not
been spotted until recently, after a series of northeastern storms and
icy cold temperatures caused the seals to head south.
of the seals have been seen north of Cape Point, and Monday’s seal was
spotted north of Avon, although where a seal lands is always hard to
lot of people are surprised that there are seals in North Carolina,
although they can show up anywhere, so they can be hard to spot,” says
Swilling. “I usually direct people to Green Island, because when
they’re here, they use Green Island a lot.”
Island is located close to Oregon Inlet, and visitors who want the best
odds of spotting the seals can grab a pair of binoculars, park at the
old life-saving station on the southern terminus of the Bonner Bridge,
and cross the street to look out over the water to the small and
water-locked “Seal Beach.”
“In a good year, we’ll have 20 seals laid out on that island,” says Swilling.
of whether you see a seal relaxing in the middle of the inlet or taking
up space on your favorite beach, there are a few key things to keep in
mind to ensure that you, and the seal, aren’t harmed during a surprise
Your Distance. Seals are covered under the Marine Mammal Protection Act
of 1972, which prohibits people from getting closer than 50 feet to the
animals – so if you get close to take a picture, not only are you
annoying the seal, but you’re also breaking the law. Seals can also
carry diseases – including a bad strand of the herpes virus and rabies
– so if you get bit, there’s a good chance that you’re headed towards a
costly and painful doctor’s visit.
Before Calling the Authorities. Because seals aren’t typically seen on
a remote beach, it can be easy to assume that since they’re out of the
water and seemingly motionless, they may be in trouble. But this isn’t
the case at all. Seals “beach themselves” simply because they need a
rest, and like any weary vacationer, they look for the most deserted
and unpopulated beaches to stretch out and take a break. The National
Park Service also has biotechnicians that patrol the beach daily
looking for cold-stunned critters or injured turtles, so if a seal is
indeed in trouble, they’ll likely be the first to know.
in doubt, look for the “banana pose” – if a seal’s tail and head are up
in the air, like a banana, that means he or she is happily relaxing and
it Chill. When seals land on Hatteras Island -- like all vacationers
and locals who need a break – they’re a little grumpy, and a little
stressed, and they need a bit of “me time” to finally relax. So while
it’s important to observe the 50-foot barrier, it’s also important to
keep it quiet. Avoid the wild shrieks when you spot one -- which
admittedly can be hard to do -- and try to keep the noise – like engine
revving and shouting– to a minimum. As any visitor or local who’s been
next to a loud party on the sand will tell you, obnoxious beachgoers
will cause you to angrily leave your spot.
as long as you keep your distance and follow the seal’s lead in staying
relaxed, a seal spotting will easily be the highlight of any wintertime
beach trip. And while you can increase the odds of spotting the seals
by going to their favorite local hang-outs, or by hitting the beach
after a few days of cold weather, part of the fun is being “surprised”
by the unexpected fellow beach loungers.
although the seals’ annual island vacation may be a little late this
year, locals and visitors alike are happy to welcome them back.