Seal pup sighting a reminder to stay away
That's the slogan adopted by the Seacoast Science Center's Marine Mammal Rescue Team, which responded to its first harp seal call on Feb. 8 after the National Marine Fisheries Service authorized the team to begin leading the state's marine mammal rescue effort on Jan.1.
The harp seal that showed up at Hampton Beach last week caught the attention of several beach-goers when it had a rest at the beach.
Harp seals and hooded seals often appear on New Hampshire's coast during the winter months and are known as "ice seals" because they prefer the cold temperatures and are born on pack ice in the Canadian provinces.
Sometimes the seals may be sick or injured and need help.
Stokes stressed the importance of reporting marine mammals seen on shore and warned people to leave them alone and keep at least 150 feet away.
"So essentially, it is against the law for people to approach, harass, or touch a seal. Technically speaking, harassment would be anything that causes the animal to change its behavior, and that is something as simple as the animal turning its head to look at you or approaching it too closely, causing it to retreat to the water," Stokes said.
"This can also be a precursor to biting," she said.
"When they retreat back to the water, especially when they are not necessarily ready to, that's a telltale sign that people are too close; they have no other option but to flee," Stokes said.
Stokes offered other tips to keep people and seals safe.
"Never try to force it back into the water. Never pour water on it or cover it with a blanket. Never offer it food or water, and most importantly never get too close or touch it. They are wild animals. We have a crew of staff and volunteers who are specially trained to deal with these animals and step in to help them when necessary," she said.
More information about what people should do can be found on its website, www.seacoastsciencecenter.org/mmrt.