Entangled Seal Rescue - North AmericaFind out more
Updated September 16, 2020, previously August 17, 2015
There are four main Cape Cod seal species in the region. Two of those species, gray seals and harbor seals, are considered resident species and can be found year round. During the winter and spring months, harp seals and hooded seals can occasionally migrate to the Cape, while hooded seals are a rare sighting.
Seals are in the family Phocidae and are considered “true” seals, unlike sea lions and fur seals which are in the family Otariidae and considered “eared” seals. There are two main differences between seals and sea lions. First, sea lions have external ear flaps, while seals lack external ears. Second, sea lions are able to rotate their hind flippers which make them able to “walk” on land and be more agile. True seals are unable to rotate their hind flippers, so they inch along on their bellies when they are on land.
Only true seals are found on the East Coast. Here are some fun facts about each seal species found on Cape Cod:
It is common for seals to haul out on land, either by themselves or in a group, to rest. It is not necessary for seals to be wet and they can go for days without eating, so beachgoers should not attempt to feed or wet a seal on land. In fact, seals are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act which recommends staying at least 150 feet away. The law makes it illegal to hunt, feed, disturb, or otherwise harass any marine mammal.
It is also important to remember that seals are wild animals. All seals have sharp teeth and claws; they also can carry diseases that are transmittable to both pets and humans. DO NOT approach them or push them back into the water!
Read even more facts about seals and how the IFAW organization began by saving seals 50 years ago.
Allison Hardman was an intern with the IFAW Marine Mammal Rescue and Research team based at IFAW headquarters. Allison has interned with several stranding organizations from Maine to Virginia rescuing stranded animals, providing care at rehabilitation facilities, and participating in outreach events and research initiatives. At IFAW she assisted the team with responses to live dolphins and seals and data collection from dead stranded animals.
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