Commentary contributed by Joe Reynolds |
Presently, a young harbor seal is being treated at the Marine Mammal Stranding Center in Brigantine, NJ after it was found with injuries on March 17. It was discovered by property owners on the edge of the ocean in Sea Bright, NJ. The sickly seal was lethargic and had several cuts to its body, including a noticeable gash on its chest.
While the sight of an injured marine mammal is never pleasant, the scene was made even worse by the ignorance and misconduct of some people. There were reports of at least one person trying to push the poor seal back into the water with a stick and another report of people being unaware of whom to call for care. As a result, the injured seal was put under even more stress.
If you believe a seal is injured, what should you do?
In New Jersey, always call the Marine Mammal Stranding Center at 609-266-0538. This non-profit organization has the authority to help stranded or sick marine mammals and sea turtles. Wildlife experts with the help of trained volunteers will determine if an animal is in need of medical attention, needs to be moved from a populated area, or just needs time to rest.
Everyone needs stay back at least 100 yards if possible, and keep your dogs on a leash and away from marine mammals. Boats should also not come closer than 100 yards of a marine mammal. No one should be touching or trying to get near any marine mammal. It’s against federal law.
All marine mammals (including seals, whales and dolphins) are protected by law under the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972. Federal marine mammal regulations prohibit harassing or touching seals and it is considered harassment. What is harassment? It’s when a person or a group of people disturb, injure, or interfere with a marine mammal’s ability to hunt, feed, communicate, socialize, rest, breed, or care for its young.
Marine mammals are federally managed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries division. If you feed, touch, harass, or pick up a seal you may be investigated by NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement for violating marine mammal regulations.
If you see a marine mammal being harassed by a person, call the NOAA Enforcement Hotline, 1-800-853-1964. The hotline is available 24 hours a day to report possible violations or provide information to help solve a case.
Of course not every marine mammal we encounter will be sick. A seal may appear on a beach and often this is not an emergency — harbor seals naturally use the beach to rest and digest food.
It’s always a good idea, though, to be respectful and observe wildlife from a distance so they are not scared or forced to flee. It would undoubtedly be a better world if everyone had greater respect and understanding for animal life.
By Joe Reynolds, Co-Chair of the Bayshore Regional Watershed Council in Keyport
This article was first published on the Commentary page of the March 23-30, 2017 print edition of The Two River Times.
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