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Friday, February 09, 2018

Urban Marine Mammals

For various reasons, not the least of which is cleaner coastal waters in the Big Apple, marine mammals are being seen more regularly. As I've reported here and on my Twitter account, Harbor Seal sightings around coastal Brooklyn during the winter months is fairly common. What IS unusual is one hauling out at Brooklyn Bridge Park to take a siesta. I thought I might take a moment to remind New Yorkers how to behave around these incredible animals.

First, let's take a look at where exactly this adorable blubbo stopped to rest:
The waterways are treacherously busy along the East River, not to mention the gauntlet of ships he or she had to run in Upper and Lower New York Harbor just to get to this location. Then there are the humans he or she has to deal with at this very busy city park. Which brings me to the primary reason for writing this non-bird posting. There were several employees of the parks department who, at first, tried to scare the Harbor Seal away by yelling and waving their arms. When that didn't work they took out their cameras and walked within 5' of the seal to take some photos. They should have known better for a couple of reasons...

All marine mammals are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. NOAA guides state that when observing wild dolphins, porpoises, and seals you must do it from "safe distances of at least 50 yards (150 feet) by land or sea." As more of these at risk animals come in closer contact with urban environments it is critical that we do our best not to disrupt their normal behavior. Here is a detailed page of information on the Harbor Seal (Phoca vitulina) from the Seal Conservation Society. If you are lucky enough to see a Harbor Seal or any marine mammals around New York City, the best way to observe them is through binoculars. If you decide to try and get close remember they are wild animals and you could also get slapped with a very substantial fine.

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