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

A harbor seal pup in Point Pleasant Beach in 2017. (Photo courtesy of Jerry Meaney/Barnegat Bay Island, NJ via Facebook)

A harbor seal pup in Point Pleasant Beach in 2017. (Photo courtesy of Jerry Meaney/Barnegat Bay Island, NJ via Facebook)

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.

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,” MMSC’s Sheila 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.”

A seal spotted resting on a North Wildwood jetty on Monday had to be relocated to a remote beach by MMSC staffers because of too many onlookers getting close.

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 offers a comprehensive seal viewing guide here.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.