A young gray seal came ashore on a Margate beach last week, and for many residents this was an unusual occurrence.

Actually, it is perfectly natural for seals to be on the beach. Considered marine mammals, seals spend as much as a third of their life on land. They sleep and rest on the shore so they can warm themselves and replenish their oxygen supply. Before the shore islands were developed, it was common for seals to be on the beaches to rest, sleep and sunbath. They may have claimed a particular beach as their home or just used it as stopping point as they traveled.

In the USA, gray seals are born in the New England area. After about three weeks, they separate from their mother and move out on their own. They make their way down the coast, hunting for fish as they go. They come ashore on the beach to sleep and rest. They are solitary animals, but sometimes they group together. They may be awkward on land, but they are very graceful and nimble in the water.

We are not used to seeing seals on the beaches because they avoid human interaction. Adult seals find more secluded areas to come ashore. The young pups just haven’t learned that yet, that's why we see the juveniles coming to shore at this time. For people walking the beach, this is a novelty. They see a seal on the beach and assume something is wrong. Because they are marine mammals, they think the seal needs to get back into the water, or it may be sick.

As with most wildlife, human interaction is a threat. Word spreads fast with today’s communication technology. People tell their friends, and many come to see the seal. What the seal does need is privacy. With people and dogs around, the seal is on alert status and cannot get the rest it needs. It will always be thinking of an escape route or preparing to defend itself. This causes undue stress for the seal.

If you see a seal on the beach, the best thing to do is give it lots of room. Notice if there are any injuries. Call the police or the Marine Mammal Stranding Center at 609-266-0538. Let others know to keep at least 50 feet away from the seal and avoid contact with the animal. Seals carry parasites and possibly diseases that could affect humans and their pets. The MMSC will send a volunteer to get some data on the seal. If the MMSC determines the seal is healthy, then the policy is to leave it alone to rest. The volunteer will then monitor the area to protect the seal from people and dogs. Springtime is a very busy time with seal sightings, and multiple sightings are straining the MMSC resources.

Young seals may look cute and cuddly. Looking like a young puppy, they are tempting to pet. However, they are wild animals, and when they feel threatened they will bite with those large teeth. The bite wound will likely require emergency care as infection from it can be serious. The seal will eventually go back in the water when it’s ready. Typically, they may hang out for a few hours or several days, periodically going back in the water to feed.

Stay away, and especially keep children and dogs away. They are a lot faster than you think. Understand that it is natural for seals to be on the beach. That's where they would normally be when not in the water. Do not alert friends. It is best to tell them after the animal has left.

Seeing more seals is a good thing. It shows that their population is rebounding. Perhaps one day, as in California or Maine, we will get used to them being here. Seeing a seal should serve as a reminder that the beaches and oceans are a habitat to many creatures. We have to share it with them. Overdevelopment has taken away much of the natural habitat. There are few places they can call their own. Learning about our environment and the animals we coexist with will give us a greater understanding of the world we live in. This will lead to a greater appreciation of the blessings of the planet and a greater understanding why we should take better care of it.

You can learn more about seals or sign up as a first responder by visiting the Marine Mammal Stranding Center. See mmsc.org.

They can always use more help and financial support.

Sustainable Downbeach is working toward creating a healthier, friendlier community with an eye on protecting the environment. For information or to get involved, see Sustainable Downbeach on Facebook.

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