A mild winter means fewer seal rescues at the Jersey Shore
Winter is usually the busiest time for seal rescues, but so far this year, there have been fewer beached seals along the Jersey coast.
Robert Schelkopf, founding director of the Marine Mammal Stranding Center in Brigantine — a nonprofit organization designed to rescue, rehabilitate and release stranded marine mammals, says ocean water temperatures off New Jersey have been warmer than usual this winter.
He says that means "the animals aren't really stressed enough. They are still finding food, so they're less likely to become weakened or injured or sick or preyed upon by sharks."
It's been so slow that the MMSC only has one tenant, a little 40 pound female harbor seal, roughly 9 months old.
She was found on Long Beach Island with a wound on her left side of her flipper and suffering from respiratory issues. But Schelkopf says she's eating 9 to 10 pounds of food a day to bulk her up. Hopefully, she'll be released soon.
What is interesting, Schelkopf says, is that New York and Maryland have requested that the MMSC take in the seals that they have because they don't have the room — because either facilities were torn down or there's not enough staff. If that happens, he says it could be a double whammy. If it starts getting cold in New Jersey again, the MMSC will be responding to injured seals in three states.
Not all seals that come ashore are injured. Some are coming to rest and take refuge from predators. Schelkopf says it's also pupping season for the gray seals.
What should you do and not do if you come across a beached seal?
Do not approach it or take selfies with it. Schelkopf says seals have very sharp teeth.
"It's still a wild animal even though it may look cute and cuddly laying there," he said. They do bite and if you are bitten, you will be immediately infected with the bacteria from their mouths.
Schelkopf says to call the MMSC's 24 hour hotline at 609-266-0538. If you can, send a photo so the stranding center can identify the species, the size and any problems the animal may have. If it's healthy, volunteers may be dispatched to possibly relocate the seal to a safer area.
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