A Jersey Shore-based mammal rescue organization is pleading with beachgoers to stay away from seals.
Over the past week several amateur and professional photographers have been flooding social media groups with photos and videos of seals taken at a close distance, revealing exact locations of resting animals on the beach, the Marine Mammal Stranding Center in Brigantine said.
"This has attracted crowds around resting seals, causing further disturbance and harassment of the animals," the non-profit organization said.
"A video has even surfaced of someone touching a seal. Several healthy seals have had to be relocated to remote beaches by officials at the MMSC due to the harassment by people and off-leash dogs."
The Center on Friday was caring for two seals at its facility.
Seals haul out on land to get much-needed rest after hunting and swimming long distances, the organization said.
The presence of people and dogs nearby causes stress and may force a seal back into the water before it is ready.
Seals are Federally-protected animals under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which makes it illegal to disturb a seal's natural behaviors.
Founding Director Bob Schoelkopf says the organization is rehabilitating less seals than average for this time of year, but responding to significantly more calls for sightings.
With the recent break in the weather enticing more people to enjoy the beach, the Center is anticipating calls to increase.
And with more people on the beach, the seals are at risk of disturbance.
It is important to remember seals are predators with sharp teeth and will not hesitate to bite. Seals carry communicable diseases that can be passed on to people or dogs.
If you spot a seal or other marine mammal on the beach, you should:
- Contact the MMSC immediately by calling (609) 266-0538
- Stay at least 150 feet away from the animal (the length of three school buses)
- Keep dogs away from the animal
- Never post locations of seals on social media
For more than four decades, the Marine Mammal Stranding has been the only organization in New Jersey dedicated to the rescue, rehabilitation and release of sick and injured marine mammals.
To date, staff and volunteer from the MMSC have responded to more than 5,600 calls for seals, dolphins, whales and sea turtles that washed ashore along all of New Jersey’s beaches.
The non-profit is only able to do this important work thanks to the support of the community and generous donations.
Click here to sign up for Daily Voice's free daily emails and news alerts.