A harp seal pup spotted on the beach on Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge.
A harp seal pup spotted on the beach on Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge.

A seal pup was seen earlier this week on the beach at Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge. It’s a little late in the season for a harp seal to still be this far south, but it is not unheard of. Not at all.

They’re usually young seals that we seen here—juvenile and even sometimes pups. They haul out on Outer Banks beaches to rest. Usually a day or two, but very rarely longer than that.

Why the Harp Seals Are Coming to Outer Banks Beaches

Over the past 20 years or so there has been an uptick in the number of seals seen on Outer Banks beaches. Usually they’re harp seals, but not always. There may be an occasional gray seal.

No one is quite sure why more seals have been seen. The most likely explanation is that seals are a protected species and their numbers have increased significantly. In a competition for food in an area where there is a healthy population, the younger harp seals will have a very difficult time and may head south where it would be easier to find food.

Seals are, however, a cold water species of mammal, so as the Gulf Stream surges north, the seals leave the area for colder waters.

That’s a theory, and it does explain a lot.

Occasionally though, a temporary colony will form, typically away from large populations of humans. Green Island in Pamlico Sound about a half mile south of Oregon Inlet, is little more than a shoal that peaks above the water. Nonetheless, in past years as many as 30 seal have been reported on the island.

A couple very important things to know about the seals. First, they are federally protected under the Marine Mammals Protection Act. The law and common sense say keep a 150’ distance from the seal. Also, do not get between the seal and the ocean. 

Mostly, it may be cute, but it’s a wild animal that weighs around 200 pounds. Put a zoom on the camera and make some memories that way.

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