Over the last few years, numerous members of the First Aid Squad - divers and EMTs alike - have undergone training as Stranding Volunteers for the Marine Mammal Stranding Center, and it's been coming in handy a lot recently. While at the first aid building this morning, the Police Department AND the Marine Mammal Stranding Center called us at the exact same time for one of what could be one of many seal spottings this winter. Four Squad members immediately headed to the Maryland Avenue beach at the south end of Point Pleasant to investigate. Two police officers had arrived on scene ahead of us and were keeping beachcombers away from a harbor seal hauled up above the waterline.
We approached the seal slowly, took cell phone pictures from various angles, and e-mailed them to MMSC for evaluation. They contacted Flo back, who further relayed our behavioral observations. It was determined that this young female did not seem to need any assistance; she just seemed to be chilling out in the sun.
Our job at that point was to seal sit, keeping passerbys at least 100 feet back and providing a little education. Everyone was interested to learn that harbor seals ARE common in our area, and we should expect them to haul out regularly during the winter months. According to MMSC, the greatest number of potential stranding calls in NJ do originate from Ocean County. The field guide provided to us by MMSC was also a great resource to share. It even includes a picture of the seal's jaws, so people didn't need too much convincing to stay back!
After two hours, with tide working up the beach, the seal shimmied back into the water, spent a few minutes close to shore, and then disappeared.
Yup, Seal Sitting Season has begun. We're glad that the only thing this one needed was to be left alone.
To learn more about the Marine Mammal Stranding Center, visit http://www.mmsc.org/ .