Harbor seal resting on the Nags Head Beach next to Jennette's Pier.

Every species, it seems, has a different idea of what is the best time to visit the Outer Banks. Humans, of course, seem to prefer summer. Seals, however, appear to prefer sprawling on a local beach in the winter.

The Outer Banks doesn't seem like it would be part of the regular travel itinerary for seals, but as it turns out, they’re fairly common along coastal North Carolina in the winter.

For proof of that we offer this image of a harbor seal that decided to catch a few rays on the Nags Head beach next to Jennette’s Pier. Typically what seals are doing when they show up on an Outer Banks beach is the same as what human visitors are doing—resting, recuperating and getting ready for the life tests that will come when they head north.

According to studies that have been done of seal activity along area, although individual seals are seen on local beaches from time to time, it is unheard of for a colony to take up residence in an area that is frequented by humans.

That doesn’t mean they’re not around…it’s just that seals prefer avoiding humans for the most part. 

The National Park Service reported in 2015 that in the winter seals regularly take up residence on a marshy piece of land just south of Oregon Inlet called Green Island. “The most observed at one time … was … up to 33…” they noted.

Most of the seals are harbor seals, although once in a while a gray seal will be seen.

The seals look cute and cuddly, but they’re really not. They’re wild animals weighing 200 to 250 pounds. They are also Federally protected under the Marine Mammals Protection Act and approaching them could result in some pretty hefty fines.