My girlfriend and I ventured out to Race Point during our recent mini-vacation to Provincetown with hopes of spotting some whales. We didn’t see any whales but we were lucky enough to stumble upon this adorable and playful harbor seal! This yearling seal really had some personality and used it to entertain the crowd with a show full of seal poses. I must have taken close to 100 photos of him as we all enjoyed a sunny afternoon at the beach together.
Our encounter with Sunny the Seal also offers a great opportunity to discuss responsible interactions with wildlife. Seals and many other marine mammals are protected under the Marine Mammals Protective Act. This federal law makes it illegal to touch, feed, hunt, kill or otherwise harass seals. Kayakers and beach-goers have the responsibility to respect the space of seals and avoid close contact that may disturb their natural behaviors. Please take some time to read my post on Guidelines for Kayaking with Seals for more details.
Earlier in the day, a responsible beach-goer had spotted Sunny lying alone on the beach. They were concerned for his well-being and decided to contact the Cape Cod Stranding Network to make sure that he was ok. When a marine biologist arrived at Race Point she quickly determined that Sunny was in perfect health and was simply basking in the warm sun. She set up a perimeter around him by drawing a line in the sand and posting signs at a respectful distance such that onlookers would give Sunny the space he deserved.
Everyone was very respectful of Sunny when the biologist was present but things changed when she decided to pack it up for the day. People started to encroach on Sunny and you could see the anxiety replace his playful demeanor. The rest of us in the crowd had all we could do to stick up for him and keep the ignorant at bay. One woman walked right up, stuck a camera in his face, and then got all bent out of shape when we asked her to back off. A man, completely oblivious to his surroundings, walked right past the signs and nearly tripped over the seal despite us warning him. The most disturbing thing was a young boy who thought it was a good idea to skip rocks within about 10 feet of Sunny…
Eventually, Sunny had had enough and decided to retreat back into the ocean. It was sad to see him leave under those circumstances and I wish I could have apologized for the irresponsible humans that disturbed his afternoon plans. If I were a park ranger I would have handed out at least a half-dozen $10,000 fines to teach people a real lesson about respecting wildlife! We’re so lucky to share the waters and shores with creatures like Sunny the Seal and the least that we can do is show them a little respect. We’re all living things after all!