Physical Distancing and Marine Mammals: A Lesson from COVID-19

 

Brian Yurasits | Marine Mammal Rescue Community Outreach Manger

The spread of Covid-19 virus around the United States has prompted health officials to recommend that the public stay at least 6 feet away from other individuals. By now, we’re all familiar with the terms ‘Physical Distancing’ and ‘Social Distancing’, as we’ve been trying our best to contain the spread of this highly infectious disease. But there’s another lesson we can take from this situation as well. When it comes to wildlife, you should ALWAYS practice physical distancing! At least 150 feet to be exact!

Marine mammal rescue organizations across the nation witness human interactions with wildlife on a daily basis. People have a tendency to push our boundaries with wild animals by:

  • harassing them for a selfie
  • feeding animals; which can lead to a dependence on people
  • allowing their dogs to freely disturb resting animals

 

 

The consequences of our actions

 

All of these actions lead to undue stress on marine mammals, making life in the ocean ever-more difficult. Imagine you’ve just had a long day at work or school and finally get a free moment to rest, but people start crowding around and harassing you. That’s what it would feel like to walk in a seal’s shoes (or flippers). 

It gets even worse. Dire consequences can occur when people separate a newborn pup from its mother. It’s common for harbor seal pups to be left alone on the beach while their mothers venture out to sea in search of food. If beachgoers mistakenly try to move the seal pup or crowd around it, this might scare its mother away, forcing her to abandon the pup, which cannot survive on its own. 

Even though people mean well in trying to help a stranded marine mammal on their own, they actually make the problem worse. For example, harp seals will start eating rocks and sand when they’re stressed by people, which needless to say is poor for their health. Another common misconception is that seals need water to survive. Seals are semi-aquatic animals and need to haul out of the water and dry off at times and are perfectly fine being out of water for long periods of time. Pouring water on them can shock their systems by quickly cooling them off when they are trying to warm up. 

These are all reasons why it’s against federal regulation to approach within 150 feet of any seal on the beach, according to the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

 

 

Become an ocean hero

 

The best thing you can do if you see a marine mammal on the beach is to call Seacoast Science Center’s Marine Mammal Rescue Hotline at 603-997-9448, and wait at least 150 feet away for our team of expert responders to come and assess the animal.

But that’s not all you can do. You can use the power of social media to share our information with family and friends in your community! Education is a powerful tool to help us conserve local marine mammal species. Our marine mammal rescue team needs YOU – the public – to be our ‘eyes’ on the coast in order to protect these animals. Only together can we ensure the health and safety of our iconic ocean visitors. 

 

Leashed dogs should be kept at a distance from seals on the beach.

Now you know: if you see a seal on the beach in NH or northern MA, keep your distance and call 603-997-9448.

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