Enjoy photographing seals- but from a distance. Seals are sensitive to being disturbed and approaching more closely can cause them to become stressed or leave the area. How do you know if you are too close? If the seals start to vocalize more, start looking at you, moving away, waving flippers or increasing their yawning they are telling you to back away.
Call for Help
If you think a seal needs help, the most important thing you can do is give the animal space and call your local trained, authorized responders to come and assess the situation. If the animal needs help the responders will know what to do. In New England and Mid-Atlantic, you can call NOAA's hotline, or locate your local responder here.
Mom and pups are especially sensitive to disturbance. They don't have much time together and need all of that time for resting, bonding, and nursing to make sure the pup can grow and thrive once it leaves mom's side.
Seals can get sick from or become aggressive from accepting too many hand-outs.
Touching wild animals is never a good idea. On top of being a violation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act, touching, or attempting to touch seals can scare and stress them out. Seals also have large canine teeth and will bite if they feel threatened. They can transmit diseases to pets, so always make sure dogs are leashed if seals are in the area.
Leave Pups Alone
Sometimes moms will leave their pups alone on the beach while they go off to feed. Mom will likely be back soon, but if she sees you close to her pup, or if her pup is not where she left it, the pup can be abandoned. Sometimes beach goers think pups need to go back into the water--- that is not the case. Making seal pups go into the water can put them at risk of over-exhaustion or expose them to predators. If the pup has been abandoned or is injured, allow trained responders to assess the situation and find the appropriate ways to help.
Common Atlantic Seals
Males are typically larger than females, reaching 7-8 feet in length. Adult gray seals can weigh between 550 and 850 pounds. Gray seals may stand their ground and can be aggressive. Their heads have a distinct horse-like shape. They pup between December- February in Maine and Massachusetts. Pups are nursed for about 16 days. There are an estimated 425,000 gray seals (2016 study) that move up and down the Atlantic coast between the US and Canada, where their abundance is increasing at a rate of 4-5% per year. More about gray seals >>
Harbor seals average 4-5 feet in length and 220-250 pounds. Their faces have a dog-like resemblance. Adults will typically retreat to the water, though juveniles may remain on the beach. Pupping in New England occurs between May-June. Pups are nursed 4-6 weeks. There are an estimated 75,000 harbor seals from eastern Canada to North Carolina. More about harbor seals >>