As 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.
And although beachgoers may initially be concerned that the lounging seal is in trouble, the seals are actually just “hanging out” for a while to enjoy a rest and an impromptu beach trip before heading back into the water.
Seals usually hit the beach in early December, as the waters get cold enough for them to head all the way south to the North Carolina coastline.
This year, with a long spell of unseasonably warm temperatures, the seals have not been spotted until recently, when temperatures finally dropped to their colder wintertime averages.
If you are lucky enough to spot one of these wintertime visitors along the shoreline, keep the following in mind to ensure that you, and the seal, aren’t harmed during a surprise encounter.
- Keep Your Distance. Seals are covered under the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972, which prohibits people from getting closer than 50 yards to the animals. Seals can also carry diseases – including a strand of the herpes virus and rabies – so if you get bit, it may result in a doctor’s visit.
- Pause Before Calling the Authorities. Because seals aren’t typically seen on our local beaches, 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 looking for cold-stunned critters or injured turtles, so if a seal is indeed in trouble, they’ll likely be the first to know.
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.
- Keep it Chill. When seals land on Hatteras Island, they can be a little grumpy, a little stressed, and need a bit of “me time” to finally relax. So while it’s important to observe the 50-yard barrier, it’s also important to keep it quiet. Keep pets on a leash, do not attempt to feed the seal, and limit your viewing time so the seal can enjoy a bit of peace and quiet.
If you do believe a seal is injured or in trouble, you can contact the OBX Stranding Response Team at 252-455-9654.
Simply put, 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.
While you can increase the odds of spotting a seal by going to their favorite local hang-outs, (such as remote shorelines or inlets), 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.