A young harbor seal hauling out on the Nags Head beach. (Photo Eve Turek, from Virginia Pilot)

Like the swallows of Capistrano the Outer Banks seals have returned once again. Of course there’s not nearly as many of them as the California birds, and there isn’t a few hundred years of history behind it, but the seals are here again.

Most are harbor seal, although an occasional grey seal will be in the mix.

Usually younger seals stop by the Outer Banks as the migrate to the south. It’s probably not a true migration—born in the cold waters of New England and Canada, the younger seals have a difficult time competing for food. To avoid the competition with larger, stronger seals, they swim south.

The seals that stop by the Outer Banks are probably catching a rest before they continue their trek to point south.

It’s called hauling out, which is an apt term to describe what the seal are doing.

The seals will occasionally explore the sounds, and have been known to haul out on people’s lawns and docks. This year reports have had them on the beach, but it seems to be almost every town from Corolla to Hatteras.

Although they look cute and cuddly, they are not! Even full-grown harbor seal will weigh between 300-400 pounds and even an younger seal is well over 150 pounds.

Additionally it is illegal to feed them or harass them under federal law. And to add to the mix—keep pets away, especially dogs. Harbor seals carry diseases that can infect canines.

All those cautionary notes aside, it is great to have our visitors back again, and we’ll look forward to seeing them again next winter.