The New England Aquarium is monitoring a marine mammal visitor today! A juvenile harp seal (Phoca groenlandica) has hauled out on one of the docks in Boston harbor and appears to be resting comfortably. It is normal to see these seals in our area at this time of year. The Aquarium's Marine Animal Rescue Team observed the seal this morning and found the animal to be "BAR." In clinical terms that means Bright, Alert and Responsive--a good thing if you're a harp seal. The seal is plump and has no obvious signs of injury.
It will be allowed to rest comfortable but will be checked from time to time by the Rescue staff to be sure. Harp seals are born on pack ice in the Maritime Provinces and are quite accustomed to the frigid temperatures. These seals will wander in their first couple of years of life and it is not unusual to see them here during the winter months. Harp seals in New England are mainly seen alone and not in groups. In fact the Rescue department has already had multiple calls about ice seals (which include harp and hooded seals) throughout the Massachusetts coast this year. Most of the time when these animals haul out they do so on pack ice or in snow in and around the various harbors and inlets. Seals are also semi-aquatic which means they do spend time out of the water and it is not unusual for them to spend up to 72 hours or more out of the water.
If you come across a harp seal hauled out, it's important for the safety of the seal and its admirers to maintain a minimum distance of 150 feet. Seals are a protected species so maintaining a safe distance isn't just about safety, it's also the law. Here's a slideshow of our new harp seal friend taken by Aquarium educators.
(The information in this post comes courtesy of Adam Kennedy and Connie Merigo from the New England Aquarium Marine Animal Rescue Team.)