2006-08-17 / Other News

Growing Seal Population Leads To Sightings In Our Area

Harbor seals like these have been recently sighted in local waterways.
Harbor seals like these have been recently sighted in local waterways. Recent sightings of harbor seals along the Long Island coast, in New York City bays and harbors, and up the Hudson River have elicited considerable interest. But quite simply, the seals are back where they belong. Harbor seals, after all, were common to the harbors and inshore waters along the eastern seaboard from Maine to Virginia until exploitation by humans almost completely reduced their numbers near urban areas.

Hunting during the colonial years and even well into the twentieth century eradicated seals from most populated coastlines. But today their population is clearly expanding. This phenomenon has resulted in excited callers reporting sightings to the Wildlife Conservation Society's New York Aqua-rium, the Police Department and local newspapers. The influx of seals and even the occasional harbor porpoise, manatee or dolphin has, in fact, been build-ing for a number of years.

In the United State, the most influential factor in the population explosion has been the Marine Mam-mal Protection Act of 1972, which places all marine mammals under almost complete protection. Any willful interference, including the close approach by humans is prohibited by federal law and carries penalties of serious fines or imprisonment. On some small islands along Long Island there are rookeries of up to 2,000 seals. Even the tiny islands around Staten Island, just past the Verrazano Bridge, can be seen lined with the plump bodies of harbor seals basking in the sun.

Humans invariably respond to such natural phenomenon with the question, "What can we do about it?" Often, well-intentioned people will try to save a stranded seal and may receive a serious bite for their efforts. Such interventions should be left to trained workers. Report the situation to the authorities at the New York Aquarium 1-718-265-3437 or dial 311. Reporting healthy marine mammals also gives researchers good information for tracking the population.

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