As winter begins and seals arrive at N.J. beaches, experts say to stay away

Seals resting off Sandy Hook. (Robert Siliato Photography)

Seals resting off Sandy Hook. (Robert Siliato Photography)

A Jersey Shore marine mammal organization is warning the public to keep a distance from the recent arrivals at area beaches: resting seals.

The Brigantine-based Marine Mammal Stranding Center (MMSC) requests that the public stay at least 150 feet away from the seals, which look cute but will deliver a sharp bite if scared.

“Please do not chase them back into the water if they are on land, as they’re ashore to rest, digest their meal, and warm up in the sun,” says MMSC’s Sheila Dean.

Harbor, grey, and harp seals are typical winter visitors at the Jersey Shore as they swim down from the New England region.

The marine mammals will warn anyone who gets too close with a “growl or snort,” or by “scratching with a flipper,” Dean advises, adding that the next defense is to bite “if they cannot get away fast enough.”

While the seals may look cold while shivering on the beach, that’s just part of their fur drying mechanism.

According to the release, seals have thick blubber layers under their skin, and they lay on their side and rock back and forth to get comfortable. The seals also put their front and rear flippers in the air to stretch and warm themselves.

“These animals are born in zero degree weather and they’re equipped for survival on their own,” Dean says, adding that they don’t need “food, water, blankets, hugs, or any human contact.”

Anyone who spots a seal should call MMSC at 609-266-0538. They’ll dispatch a technician to check on the blubbery visitor.

Dean says the public should not touch or attempt to assist seals in any way, as that’s illegal.

“NOAA law enforcement will be watching for any seal harassment photos on social media. There are fines for interfering with marine mammals,” she added.

NOAA offers a comprehensive seal viewing guide here.

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