Seal Story Takes Sad Turn

Text: T T
By Anna Spivak

The shadows of onlookers fall over an injured seal, whose rescue turned into a cautionary tale. 
Photos by Anna Spivak The shadows of onlookers fall over an injured seal, whose rescue turned into a cautionary tale. Photos by Anna Spivak A collective sigh of relief permeated throughout the Rockaway community as news spread of an injured seal pup who was rescued after hauling himself out of the water at Beach 106th Street. The solace was fleeting, however, as the Riverhead Foundation announced on Wednesday, April 12, that the seal died shortly after arriving at their facility.

The Wave reported that the gray seal pup, found on Tuesday, April 11, was picked up by the Riverhead Foundation and taken to their rescue center on Wednesday morning, April 12.

According to Riverhead Foundation President Charles Bowman, the seal was doing fine and was resting at the foundation’s rescue center after receiving a full physical.

“While it does have a couple of small wounds, the seal is alert and exhibiting normal behaviors,” an update, posted on the Riverhead Facebook, reads.

The gray seal pup hauled himself out of the water at Beach 106th Street. The gray seal pup hauled himself out of the water at Beach 106th Street. Bowman confirmed that the male seal pup was doing what came naturally to him; however, the crowd of people surrounding him at the beach was an added stress.

“They generally haul out in order to rest on the beach and that’s normal behavior, especially when they’re young,” said Bowman. “Many times when we arrive on scene, the seals are just doing their normal seal things. But certainly the crowding around does more harm than good. They’re wild animals and they need space.”

Bowman stressed that large crowds can be fatal for marine mammals.

“The crowding around and some people even pouring water on him, that kind of stress can actually kill the animal,” Bowman said.

According to Riverhead, while there were no outward signs of severe injuries to the seal, a full post mortem examination will be performed to determine why he died.

“We greatly appreciate the assistance received from the Parks Department in monitoring the animal’s behavior and talking to the public,” Riverhead released on Facebook. “While we did receive many helpful photographs, videos and behavioral reports from a great number of people about this animal, we also heard reports of crowds of people around the animal and some that got very close. It is imperative, not only for the animal’s safety, but for public safety as well, that you stay at least 150 feet away from marine mammals like seals, dolphins, porpoises and whales. Crowds of people can cause unnecessary stress to the animals.”

With the Riverhead Foundation being a non-for-profit organization – covering a large area that spans Montauk to New York City – Bowman said that immediate responses to every stranding are difficult.

“We only have a few people and a couple of trucks, so people do have to be patient,” he said.

According to Riverhead, March through early May is the main season for seals to come up to the beach. If you spot a stranded or injured seal near you, it is very important to keep your distance and to call the NYS Stranding Hotline at 631-369-9829. Riverhead recommends a distance of at least 150 feet, as seals can become aggressive if provoked – at times biting, which could cause major wounds and possibly infections to humans, according to the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW).

Additionally, seals should never be offered food (it is illegal and prohibited by regulations enacted under the Marine Mammal Protection Act) or poured water on. Pouring water on the animal will be stressful and cause it to expend more energy to dry off again, according to IFAW. It also might drive an animal in need of rest back into the water before it is ready.

“It’s a curiosity and we understand, people don’t get to see seals often,” said Bowman. “They feel sorry and they want to do the right thing, but they don’t know what the right thing is. [Basically, just] don’t interact and let us respond and do what we do best. We’ve been doing it for 30 years so we’re pretty good at it.”

If you would like to learn more about marine mammals or the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation, visit their website at

2017-04-14 / Front Page

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RIP little guy. You seemed

RIP little guy. You seemed so peaceful when I spotted you, but I guess whatever was wrong was not obvious. And thank you Riverhead - you did the best you could, as always. Thanks to the Wave for compassionately following this story, as a beach community it's imperative to care about our ocean's marine mammals. SEAL (the human one)
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