Harp Seal Spotted on Harkers Island

A harp seal photographed on a Harkers Island beachFrom our friends at the Cape Lookout Studies Program, at the N.C. Maritime Museum in Beaufort

Late last month, Frank and Peggy Guthrie reported a live seal on the shore near their home on Harkers Island. N.C. Maritime Museum Natural Science Curator Keith Rittmaster drove there right away and found a harp seal (photo), which eventually entered the water and swam away.

This may be a new species for Carteret County, but interestingly in the past few weeks there have been two other harp seals photographed in North Carolina -- one at Kill Devil Hills and one on Masonboro Island. Examining the photos carefully, we have determined that these sighting are of three different individual harp seals.

During winter months, sightings of seals on beaches and in waters of North Carolina are becoming increasingly frequent. North Carolina is considered part of the normal winter range for harbor seals, our most common seal visitor. But recently we have seen three additional seal species (gray, hooded, and harp seals) in North Carolina, all of which we consider out of their more northern normal range. Distinguishing individual seal species can be tricky and generally requires experience and/or a good guide book.

Evaluating their health status is an even greater challenge. Lying on beaches is a normal behavior for seals and they generally don't need to be rescued. If a seal is sighted on a beach in Carteret or adjacent counties, please call the N.C. Marine Mammal Stranding Network at (252) 241-5119 so we can confirm the species ID and attempt to evaluate its health.

Please do not attempt to pet or feed the seal as this is illegal and can be dangerous. Please give them a wide berth and do not crowd, harass or agitate them. Please try to respect their beauty without being noticed, enjoy the view. 

Read More About Harp Seals from NOAA

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