Entangled Seal Rescue - North AmericaFishing nets don’t just trap. They kill.
Seals, also known as pinnipeds (Latin for “fin footed”), are semi-aquatic marine mammals found in polar, temperate and tropical regions, especially in the North Atlantic, the North Pacific, and the Southern Ocean. In the U.S., all marine mammals, including seals, are federally protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. There are four different seal species here on Cape Cod, two of which can be seen year round. With so many sightings on our beaches, you may have questions about encountering these wild creatures. Find answers to your frequently asked questions about seals below!
If you have found a live or dead marine mammal (whale, dolphin, porpoise or seal) on Cape Cod or in southeastern Massachusetts, please call IFAW’s stranding hotline.
For stranded animals outside of IFAW’s response area
Stay a safe distance away (150 feet, 45 meters, or four school bus lengths), keep your pets leashed, and call your local stranding response organization to speak with a marine mammal responder about the sighting. Some seals may be in need of intervention and some seals may just be taking a rest on shore.
Seals seen on land are not necessarily stranded or in need of help. Seals are semi-aquatic, meaning they spend part of their lives on land and part in the water. Seals “haul out” on land to rest, thermoregulate, molt (annual shedding of fur), and give birth. However, there are cases where seals are considered stranded and may be in immediate danger or in need of medical attention.
When IFAW receives a report of a live seal, trained volunteers or staff respond to observe the seal’s behavior and assess its health from a distance so as not to unnecessarily disturb the seal. This helps responders determine whether a seal is in need of intervention and is, in fact, stranded.
Seals typically strand due to illness or injury, and others may strand already deceased. Over the past ten years, 11% of all seal strandings investigated by IFAW have shown evidence of human interactions, such as entanglement, vessel strike, gunshot wounds, ingestion of marine debris, harassment and more.
Seals are wild animals and should only be viewed from a distance—for your safety, your pet’s and the seal’s. In fact, seals in the U.S. are federally protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972, which maintains that people should keep a distance of 150 feet (about four bus lengths) from seals (or any marine mammals). This regulation not only protects seals from stressful and potentially harmful interactions with humans and their pets, but it also keeps people and pets safe as well. Please be a responsible wildlife viewer and observe seals from a distance, and only get a closer look using your binoculars or camera lens.
Yes, most species of seal spend time alone—even young seals. Some seal species leave their newborn pups on the beach while they forage at sea, so it is important to leave them alone so the mothers can come back to retrieve them. However, seal pups spend a relatively short time with their mothers, just days to weeks, before they are weaned and independent. Interesting fact—hooded seals only nurse their pups for about four days before they are left on their own! Most of the young seals on Cape Cod have already been weaned from their mothers and are ready for life on their own.
Usually not. While seals are agile in the water, they look very awkward moving around on land. Seals, as opposed to sea lions or walruses, can only flop along on their bellies when on land. They do not have the ability to rotate their rear flippers forward to walk on them like sea lions can. They also have very short front flippers that cannot support their bodies in an upright position, and are instead used to dig into the sand to help them inch along. Despite their awkward movements over land, they can travel long distances and are usually able to get back to the water when ready.
No, seals do not need to always be wet. Being semi-aquatic, they regularly haul out on land, sometimes for days at a time. They often leave the water to take a break from swimming and warm up in the sun.
Definitely not. Seals should never be offered food of any kind. Not only is it illegal to do so, but such actions could be harmful to the seal and to you.
No, seals are opportunistic feeders and often go days without feeding. They also have energy stores in their thick blubber layer that allows them to go extended periods of time without eating. When they do get hungry, they eat a variety of fish, crustacean and squid.
Shivering can be a stress response and often occurs when people are too close. If you observe a seal shivering, there is a good chance you are standing too close. Please step back and be sure to maintain a distance of 150 feet. Shivering can also help seals thermoregulate. Never attempt to cover a seal with anything. Not only is it dangerous for you, but it can also be detrimental to the seal by causing it to overheat or become stressed.
Seal entanglement in fishing gear is an ongoing problem and causes long-term suffering. Our team partnered with The Marine Mammal Center in California to develop rescue techniques that use remote sedation to aid gray seal disentanglement efforts on Cape Cod. Find out how you can help support seal rescue efforts.
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