By Lauren Wanko
A 1-month-old female grey seal’s relaxing after a morning meal at the Marine Mammal Stranding Center. She’s one of more than 50 spotted along the state’s coast in the past two weeks.
“It’s twice as high as we normally have had in past years and that’s probably due to the severe icing we had,” said Marine Mammal Stranding Center Founding Director Bob Schoelkopf.
Schoelkopf says it’s not unusual to see seals in New Jersey this time of year. They follow their food up north for the summer. But they typically don’t see this many.
“We had a very cold winter where all the back bays in New Jersey were frozen over. If these seals were in the back feeding at the time they weren’t able to leave because there was too large an expanse of ice field for them to go under to swim out so they just stayed where they were,” Schoelkopf said.
Once the ice melted, the seals swam out to find food. Schoelkopf says after they ate, they wanted to head to the beach to rest and dry off.
“After feeding and after swimming they need to replenish the oxygen supply in their system. That’s where the resting comes in. They have to lay on the beach,” Schoelkopf said.
Aside from the four baby seals the Marine Mammal Stranding Center’s caring for now, all the animals spotted have been healthy.
“In the case of the one behind me here, he’s never learned to eat, has no idea what food is, so we had to literally teach him how to eat on his own,” Schoelkopf said.
People often try to help the seals but they shouldn’t. Schoelkopf says to stay at least 50 feet away.
“People say, ‘I never saw a seal before, doesn’t belong here.’ We had one up in Hoboken for two days, three days and we had endless calls. ‘Something’s wrong, the animal’s dying, it’s frozen to the dock,’ whatever. There was nothing wrong but the animal wanted to rest, to warm up a little bit and dry out,” he said.
If you see a seal, the Marine Mammal Stranding Center suggests sending them a picture and calling their 24/7 hotline right away at 609-266-0538.
These seals arrived about a week ago. They typically spend about six weeks here — time to ensure they’ve put on enough weight and are strong enough to be released back into the wild.