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Chesapeake Pit Stop

Hunger and adventure bring seals to our warm waters

Seals aren’t an everyday sighting in Chesapeake Country. So if you happen to spot one lounging on a regional beach, you’ve reason to be impressed.
    If you haven’t seen one yet, keep looking, the experts say.
    “Seals are natural visitors,” reports Jennifer Dittmar, manager of animal rescue at the National Aquarium in Baltimore.
    From December through May when waters are cool, they pass through Chesapeake Country on their travels south from sub-arctic regions. From Maine through New York, year-round populations are also expanding.
    Visiting seals “are pretty common along the Atlantic beaches and the coastal bays behind Ocean City and occasionally along the Chesapeake Bay,” Dittmar says. They range as far south as North Carolina looking for food.”
    Semi-aquatic mammals, seals haul out — or beach themselves — to rest. That’s when you’re likely to see them.
    This year’s first sighting was reported January 14 on the beach in Ocean City at 143rd Street.
    “Anywhere land meets water — rock jetties, jet ski platforms, a beach — that’s where you’ll find them,” Dittmar says.
    Any seal you see is likely a young juvenile yearling travelling solo. Four species visit our waters. Most common are harbor and gray seals, followed by two species of ice seals, harp and hooded.
    Teams of volunteers in Ocean City trained as first responders work as eyes and ears for the aquarium. They know, as you should, that you can look but never touch. Keep your distance: a minimum of 50 yards.
    Under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, it’s against the law to touch, feed or harass seals.
    Report seal sightings to the Maryland Coastal Bays Program: 410-213-2297 x107; www.mdcoastalbays.org.
    If you come across a stranded marine animal that may need medical attention, call Maryland Natural Resources Police (800-628-9944) or the National Aquarium Stranded Hotline (410-373-0083).