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There are seals at the the Jersey Shore! In early April, we spotted over a dozen Harbor Seals off the shore at Sandy Hook Gateway National Recreational Area in New Jersey.

Seals migrate down to New Jersey from New England and Canada to escape the frozen waters during winter. Here, they can haul on secluded beaches to rest, relax and feed on an abundance of fish and crustaceans found in the bay area between New Jersey and New York City waters.

As it turns out, seals (pinnipeds) are common during the winter. Although they are not classified as threatened or endangered, according to Conserve Wildlife NJ, “They are protected by the Federal Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972.” It is against the law to approach a seal, touch, feed or bother it.



Harbor Seals (Pinnipeds) hauling in calm, shallow water on a warm April day at Sandy Hook, NJ, USA.

Nine Things to Know about Harbor Seals in New Jersey


Why do seals lay around in the sun?

On sunny days, seals need to come out of the cold water to warm up their bodies. Known as hauling, they need peaceful, undisturbed rest in the sun to recharge their energy. If they become disturbed, they will abandon the haul-out site and may never return to that location again.

What is a Pinniped?

It means fin-footed. These amphibious marine mammals include seals, sea lions, fur seals and walrus.  The Harbor Seal is the most common seal spotted in New Jersey. Other species include the gray seal, which is larger; the harp seal, and the least common hooded seal.  Male and female seals look very much the same; the male is a little longer and heavier.

Why do seals haul out in large groups?

Seals are social animals. They also hang out in groups to avoid predators. While hauling, they will interact with other seals, watch over and raise their pups, molt, and even give birth!


A Harbor Seal suns in shallow water along the shore.

Photo by TheOtherKev from Pixabay

Do seals go far on land?

Seals have very limited mobility on land. If you see one on the shore, keep a least 50 yards away. Even though they look like giant puppies, it is important to remember that they are wild animals with sharp teeth. Their powerful jaws mimic the bite of a pit bull dog. Furthermore, their mouths contain a harmful bacteria, resulting in infection, loss of fingers, or much worse.

How long can seals go under the water?

Seals can go underwater for up to 30 minutes, although, they typically spend about 15 minutes underwater. They can even sleep underwater!

What do seals eat?

They mostly eat fish, but shellfish and crustaceans are also a big part of their diet. Depending on availability of food, they will do shallow and deep dives while searching for their next meal.


Harbor Seal Pup near the shore on a sunny day. 

Photo by TheOtherKev from Pixabay

How long do seals live?

The lifespan of the harbor seal is longer for the female, which live up to 35 years. The male seals typically live 20 to 25 years old; a shorter lifespan that may be affected by the stress of fighting during breeding seasons.

I spotted a seal on the beach – what should I do?

If you spot a seal on the shore that may be injured, call the NJ Marine Mammal Stranding Center at (609) 266-0538. Do not approach the seal. If the seal is injured, you can scare it back into the water where it may be killed.

Are seal numbers declining?

Actually, the number of seals have increase each winter – a positive outlook for these fin-footed cuties. If you hearing of a sighting in the area and get a chance to see them, bundle up and bring binoculars. Since they are not always in the same place, expect to walk up to a mile in sandy beaches.


A Harbor Seal on the beach working on her abs.  

Photo by TheOtherKev from Pixabay


So there you have it. Although very cute, seals are quite dangerous. Enjoy them from a distance to leave them undisturbed so that they will return again and again. Bundle up, pack your binoculars and camera and hope you get to see some Harbor Seals along the New Jersey shore!

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