These winter visitors to the Outer Banks need their space

This seal rested in the dunes in Kitty Hawk for several days the week of Jan. 4, 2021. [Kari Pugh photo]

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While pier fishing creeps to a crawl this month, Jennette’s Pier staff members stand ready to help seals who “haul out” on Outer Banks beaches. Unlike dolphins and whales, seals don’t strand themselves on the sand because they are sick or dying.

Instead, these seals are just looking to rest. If you come across a seal on the beach, you should leave it alone, according to Rachel Potts, who has led the Pier’s efforts in assisting the Outer Banks Marine Mammal Stranding Network for the past six years.

“Give them plenty of space,” Potts said. “It is important to stay at least 150 feet away so they can rest.

“If there is no signage, or it appears the stranding network has not yet been contacted, give us a call on our hotlines,” Potts said.

For Corolla south through Nags Head, call 252-455-9654. For Cape Hatteras National Seashore, it’s 252-216-6892.

She also noted that most of these seals are either pups or juveniles. “They are born up north and are presumed to come down here to learn how to hunt and survive on their own,” Potts said. “The most common species we see are grey, harbor and harp.”

Seals, just like any other mammals, can carry different types of diseases, she noted.

“Some of these are zoonotic, which means they can be passed from animal to human, such as herpes and influenza,” Potts said. Just another reason to steer clear of them.

It can be exciting to see a seal on the beach, and they are cute animals. Maybe just grab a quick photo from afar — and keep your dog on a leash.

“Seals are a protected animal and our job is to make sure they can rest and remain undisturbed while hauled out,” Potts said. “We want everyone to be able to enjoy them and appreciate them from a distance.”

If there are network volunteers at a site, be sure to ask them questions to learn more, she added. Also, check out the network’s website: