Beach-goers were surprised on Wednesday to encounter an unusual beach bum just off of Ramp 27 – a seal that had found a high and dry stretch of sand close to the dune line.
The seal was gone by Thursday morning, but spent a good chunk of time relaxing and cleaning his whiskers, according to a local beachcomber who got to pause from a distance and enjoy the show.
April may seem a little late for a visit from the seals that frequent the local beaches in the cold winter months, but with cooler water temperatures, it’s not as unusual as it seems.
“It’s fairly normal,” says Paul Doshkov, a Biotech with the National Park Service. “The water temperature is 57 degrees, and we still see seals when water temps are in the 50s.”
“Once the water temperatures get in the 60s, it starts to get a little too warm for them,” he adds. “We’re hoping by the end of the month, they’ll be making their way north to New England.”
Seals head to the beach for a bit of a rest during their long swims along the coastline. Typically there are three types of seals that pay our islands a visit – harbor seals, which are the most common, gray seals, and occasionally harp seals.
Often, it’s the young seals that stop by, as they forage the southern waters for fish in order to avoid competition with the older adults in the Northeastern region of the U.S.
It’s been a fairly busy winter for seal visitors, too.
Doshkov reports that there have been a total of 71 documented seal sightings throughout the Outer Banks since late December. Of the 71, 27 were in the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, while four were in the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge, north of Rodanthe.
“It’s definitely been busy,” he says. “We’ve had a couple of snowstorms, so the weather consistently kept those ocean temperatures down.”
But the wave of seal visitors will likely end soon. As we head into May, and water temps start to trickle higher, it’s unlikely that there will be seal sightings for much longer.
In the meantime, if you do have the pleasure of encountering one of these annual visitors, please keep the following in mind.
Keep 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. Seals can also carry diseases – including a 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.
Pause 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.
When 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 comfortable.