College of the Atlantic mammal experts: “Solitary pups are seldom actually abandoned”
Baby harbor seals alone on a beach or coastal rocks may look sad, lost, abandoned — but they seldom are in as much distress as they might seem, say College of the Atlantic marine mammal experts. Even if they’re crying, or attempting to snuggle, or suckle even shoe a shoe, still, say the experis, “Don’t Touch! Don’t Worry! The seal’s mom is probably out finding food, returning shortly. Being left high and dry with no mom in sight is part of the life of a harbor seal pup.
According to staff at Allied Whale, COA’s marine mammal research center:
Harbor seal mothers often leave their pups for hours at a time to forage for food. They may even leave their pup on the same beach day after day while periodically coming back to feed it. The pup might “cry,” but a seal’s vocalizations are essential—the mom listens for her own pup’s plaintive hooting calls. Generally, the pup is healthy and simply awaiting its mother’s return.
Leave the pup alone. The mother will not return if she detects the presence of humans. Human closeness can significantly stress the animal, potentially causing internal bodily harm.
Seals are semi-aquatic; while they spend a good deal of their life in the ocean, it is necessary, even critical, to spend portions of time hauled out of the water—on beaches, docks, even perched in discarded tires, or on uncomfortable-looking rocks.
Yes, there are cases in which harbor seal pups are truly abandoned by their mothers. The mother may be ill and unable to care for her pup, she may have died or gotten separated from the pup. In these cases, the pup will need human assistance, given appropriately and safely.
If you find a seal pup:
Do not touch it. That is for your own safety as well as the animal’s well being. Seals can carry infectious diseases that can be transmitted to humans and to pets, making them very ill.
Do not remove it from the beach. The pup may be resting and awaiting its mom’s return.
Do not put the pup back in the ocean. They are babies; they need rest like all infants.
Do not pour seawater on the pup. They do not need to be wet.
And do not feed the animal; at this age, pups are still nursing. Mom’s milk is better and different from the milk we drink, so refrain from playing surrogate mother!
Remember, it is illegal to touch, harass or harm any marine mammal in the United States.
If you feel the pup needs assistance, or if you simply want more information, call Allied Whale, the marine mammal research lab of the College of the Atlantic at: 288-5644 or the stranding cell-phone at: 266-1326 (weekends, evenings, holidays).
COA’s Allied Whale is a member of the Northeast Regional Stranding Network and is authorized by the National Marine Fisheries Service to respond to marine mammal strandings. All marine mammals are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act.