The area north of Corolla is known for the beautiful wild horses but today we were reminded of another animal that enjoys the beaches as much as we do!
When I posted the picture on our Facebook Wall , we immediately got numerous comments with people surprised to see a seal on our beaches. I have never personally seen one, but I know they have been known to come ashore. I decided to dive deeper into seals on the Outer Banks.
As it turns out, Harbor Seals have been showing up on the shores along the Outer Banks for many years. However, more and more are starting to appear in late winter and early spring. These seals swim onto shore to rest or "haul out". They can stay on the sand for up to three days without eating. It is very important that people leave the seals alone while they rest. If they are frightened into the water before they are well rested it can be dangerous for them.
One of the places they love is a small, man made island near Oregon Inlet. Up to 30 adult seals have been found on this island. The island is only accessible by boat, so the seals are safe and aren't bothered by people.
In order to protect these mammals, the volunteers from N.E.S.T (Network for Endangered Sea Turtles) shift their focus to help them out. The seals are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the volunteers are called out to assess the situation and make sure that on lookers are respecting the animals. The volunteers check the seal for injuries, keep people away (at least 100 feet) from the seals and monitor the seal for up to 24 hours. If the volunteers think the animal needs additional help, they call in the Marine Mammal Stranding Team out of Virginia Beach for more help. If the team thinks that the seals need help, they will take it for rehabilitation.
As of last winter, only 1 seal had been found to need rehabilitation. It was found in March, 2011. It was alert but thin. After coming to shore for the fourth time, the Marine Mammal Stranding Team was called for assistance. The seal was eventually taken to the Baltimore Aquarium and treated for pneumonia. It was later released back into the ocean.
There are several theories to explain why the seals are venturing as far south of North Carolina. Changing climates and a growing seal population are two popular theories. If you spot what you think may be an injured or distressed seal on the beaches of the Outer Banks, please call the Marine Mammal Stranding Network at (252) 241-5119.