4 quick tips when you encounter seals naturally hanging out on beaches

Juvenile harbor seal born this year (probably 1-3 months old) Local Cape resident Jennifer Taylor Leitsch took the photo with a zoom lens and reported the seal to IFAW's MMRR team. This animal was reported in Sandwich multiple times from 6/21 to 6/24 and staff and many volunteers went out to monitor the animal. On 6/24 it went back in the water and hasn't been reported since.The phone started ringing at 7 am with reports of young seals on several beaches, and calls continued to come in all day.  These seals are most likely just resting on the beach; it was a beautiful spring day on Cape Cod after all!

It’s typical to have juvenile seals alone on the beach this time of year, especially young gray seals, which were most likely born early this winter on the north east coast.

We do get a few juvenile harp seals, which are typically born farther up north in Canada, and often come visit during the winter months on Cape Cod. 

It is even normal for these animals to stay up on the beach for several days at a time, as seals are semi-aquatic marine mammals that live both on the shore and in the water, they do not need to be in the water all the time, and while it looks very awkward they can move along the beach very well, and can move back into the water when and if they want to!

  • If you see a seal on the beach, the best thing to do is to leave it alone and let it rest.
  • Please keep back at least 150 feet if possible and please keep dogs back as far as possible! 

Seals are federally protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act, making it illegal to approach and harass any marine mammal.  Harassment is defined by anything that we do that changes the animals’ behavior.

Also, approaching an animal closely can stress the animal, and stress can have a very quick and negative impact on the animal’s health! 

Please call our IFAW Marine Mammal Rescue HOTLINE on Cape Cod and the South coast, or call your local marine mammal stranding agency if you live in another region.

All of the seals our staff and volunteers checked on today were in great condition, just resting up on the beach, however, one little gray seal, couldn’t have picked a worse location, it was right in the path of off road vehicles that many Wellfleet fisherman use for access to the beach. In fact it was inches from fresh tire tracks, and there were many vehicles out on the beach.

IFAW MMRR volunteers and town staff monitored the animal until staff arrived as the animal blended well into the sand. 

Once we arrived,  we collected the seal, placed her in a kennel and drove across town to Duck Harbor Beach in Wellfleet, as it was a much safer location! 

We placed a small yellow tag on her right rear flipper and released her back out on the beach just before sunset.  As of this morning there was no sign of her, so it appears that she finally went back into the water and swam away.

Not a bad ending to a busy day!

Just a reminder, if you see a seal on the beach:

  1. Stay back a safe distance (at least 150 feet)
  2. Keep dogs as far back as possible
  3. Call IFAW MMRR’s HOTLINE: 508-743-9548 or your local marine mammal stranding agency if you are not on Cape Cod.
  4. If you have difficulty locating the proper agency or phone number, you can call your local police station and they will forward your report to the appropriate agency.  (However, do not call 911, unless it is an emergency)


For more information on our Marine Mammal Rescue and Research team efforts, visit their team page.

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Senior Program Advisor
Senior Program Advisor
Brian Sharp, Emergency Relief Officer, Stranding Coordinator
Manager, Marine Mammal Rescue and Research
Céline Sissler-Bienvenu, Director, France and Francophone Africa
Director, France and Francophone Africa
IFAW Veterinarian
Gail A'Brunzo, Manager, Wildlife Rescue
Manager, Wildlife Rescue
Veterinarian, DVM, PhD
Veterinarian, DVM, PhD
Katie Moore, Deputy Vice President, Conservation and Animal Welfare
Deputy Vice President, Conservation and Animal Welfare
Loïs Lelanchon, Animal Rescue Program Officer
Animal Rescue Program Officer
Vivek Menon, Director of IFAW partner, Wildlife Trust of India
Senior Advisor to the CEO on Strategic Partnerships & Philanthropy