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First State seal sightings, strandings increase in late winter

Coursey of MERR
The harbor seal at Coursey Pond in Felton

Warm winter temperatures in February prompted many seals to start their migration north early, and they are now in peak migration season.



Marine Education Research and Rehabilitation Institute Director Suzanne Thurman estimates well over 100 seals have made their way north through Delaware since late February.

“They’ll haul out - which they just bring themselves out of the water and rest on some point of dry land where they also can make a quick escape back into the water,” Thurman said. “That’s how they feel safe - if they can get away from any potential predators, and especially people.”


MERR has responded to calls for about a dozen seals that have flopped out of the water in just the past couple of weeks. Thurman wouldn’t say where volunteers spotted the seals because they want to prevent human interference.


Thurman said the majority of the seals seen are harp seals. They’ve also seen a few harbor seals and gray seals.


"When we’re having a really cold winter, the seals will stay around as long as May," Thurman said. "When things keep warming up as they have been, it’s more likely the seals will head north again as the water temperatures increase."


The harbor seal that was seen in Coursey Pond in Felton in late December is still there, and Thurman said it is happy and healthy. But ultimately, she said she believes MERR may need to capture it because its only way to return to the bay requires crossing a road with high traffic.


MERR urges Delawareans to call its stranding hotline, (302)-228-5029, if they are concerned about a seal. Federal law requires that people maintain a distance of at least 150 ft. away from a seal to avoid stressing or traumatizing the mammal.

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