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Give seals their space

June 10, 2013

Give seals their space

A harbor seal pup whose stranding was publicized on YouTube is being rehabilitated, and the individual who coaxed it back into the water with his foot—a violation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act—has agreed to educate other beachgoers about appropriate behavior around seals.

“He was trying to do the right thing, but he was unaware of the repercussions to the animal and to him,” said Special Agent Michael Henry with NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement.

The Marine Mammal Protection Act prohibits, with certain exceptions, the "take" of marine mammals and defines "take" as "harassment, hunting, capturing, killing or collecting," or the attempt to do so. In this case, assisting the seal pup back into the water is considered harassment because it changes the natural behavior of the animal. Significant violations can result in a civil penalty up to $11,000 as well as criminal penalties up to $100,000 and imprisonment of up to a year or both.

Giving marine mammals their space is for both the animals’ and the viewers’ protection. NOAA recommends you stay at least 50 yards (150 feet) from resting seals. For more information, visit:

The individual who coaxed the seal pup back into the water with his foot came forward voluntarily after the incident on Rye Beach, New Hampshire, was publicized on YouTube and in local and Boston media. He has volunteered to assist with outreach and education to other beachgoers.

The same seal pup later was picked up by an unidentified individual and transported to the Seacoast Science Center. While this person probably thought she was acting in the seal pup’s best interest, her behavior also is in violation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act because it caused total separation of the seal pup from its mother.

NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement is investigating this incident with the assistance of the Rye Police Department. Anyone with information regarding this seal pup should contact NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement at 617-884-5754 or the Rye Police Department at 603-964-5522. Any potential violations of the Marine Mammal Protection Act, Endangered Species Act, or any fisheries laws can be reported to NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement’s toll free hotline at 1-800-853-1964.

Story by Lesli Bales-Sherrod, communications specialist for NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement. To contact her, please call 301-427-8234 or email Lesli.Bales-Sherrod@noaa.gov.