Maryland Coastal Bays Program (MCBP) and the National Aquarium partnered in 2012 to launch an outreach program on responsible seal viewing and sighting reporting. Out of this partnership developed the seal steward program, as Ocean City has been experiencing a significant increase in seal sightings.
This citizen volunteer opportunity is an ‘on call’ opportunity. When a seal hauls out, seal stewards are contacted to see if they are available to man the haul out area to make sure beach and dog walkers keep a safe distance to protect both the walkers, dogs, and the seal.
Their dog like faces and lumpy body make seals adorably appealing and seemingly approachable; however, an up close and personal encounter with a seal can cause serious stress and create a dangerous situation for people and/or the seal. Seals are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA). It is against the law to touch, feed, or otherwise harass seals and when viewing you are required to stay at least 50 yards from the resting seal (the length of three school buses).
When a seal lays on a beach, it is hauling out, a normal behavior associated with pinnipeds (seals, sea lions and walruses) of temporarily leaving the water between periods of foraging activity for sites on land or ice. Hauling out is necessary in seals for mating, giving birth, predator avoidance, thermal regulation, social activity, parasite reduction, and rest. As the seals that we experience in our area are temporary visitors, their hauling out here is primarily for rest or distress. Therefore, close encounters by humans and dogs put both at risk. Seals will bite and serious infections can be transmitted to you or your pet.
If you should encounter a seal on the beach, please call the National Aquarium stranding hotline 410-576-3880 or 1-800-628-9944 so a trained observer can evaluate the condition of the seal to determine if it is doing its normal thing or is in distress.
The National Aquarium also documents these haul outs to keep a perspective on our ever-changing environment.
For more information on the program contact firstname.lastname@example.org.