2017-04-21 / Editorial/Opinion

Nothing To See Here

It’s difficult to fight the urge that comes with attaining a glimpse of the rare or mysterious.

Bearded lady sideshows and fire breathers come to mind. So do dinosaur bones and marine mammals.

Within a two-week time span, Rockaway was visited by not one, but two marine mammals. One of them a 20-ton humpback whale, the other a young, gray seal pup.

The whale, according to Atlantic Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) spokespeople, was already dead when it washed up on Beach 117th Street – he was first spotted floating nine miles offshore on the evening of Monday, April 3, by the United States Coast Guard. The seal pup, who hauled himself out of the water at Beach 106th Street on Tuesday, April 11, was injured, but alive.

Several calls came in to The Wave about both mammals, as well as another seal that was found on Beach 125th Street on Thursday, April 13. We thank our readers for that.

Parks Department Enforcement personnel and NYPD officers could be seen attempting to keep people at bay, both with the whale on Beach 117th and the seal on Beach 106th. Their efforts, however, were no match for the cellphone wielding crowd of curious onlookers.

Again, a glimpse of one of nature’s aquatic creatures is difficult for inquisitive minds to turn down. However, according to the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation, large crowds can be fatal for marine mammals.

From bystanders attempting to pour water on the seal to others allowing their (also curious) dogs to sniff the seal from a mere foot away, the added stress on the young animal, coupled with his injuries and the time it took for rescuers to make their way to the scene (March through early May is the main season for seals to come up to the beach, therefore Riverhead was tending to several cases that day) led to his unfortunate death.

Bottom line, an injured seal is not a circus sideshow. This young animal was fighting to stay alive while a crowd of people gawked. Granted, there were a few locals at the scene who knew exactly what to do. They called the NYS Stranding Hotline and even tried to aid officers in keeping the crowd back. If you want to help, do just that. Remind people that they need to keep a distance of 150 feet from the animals and under no circumstances try to feed or pour water on them.

“It’s a curiosity and we understand, people don’t get to see seals often,” Riverhead Foundation President Charles Bowman Bowman told The Wave. “They feel sorry and they want to do the right thing, but they don’t know what the right thing is. [Basically, just] don’t interact and let us respond and do what we do best. We’ve been doing it for 30 years so we’re pretty good at it.”

Because Riverhead is a not-for-profit organization – covering a large area that spans Montauk to New York City – Bowman said that immediate responses to every stranding are difficult.

“We only have a few people and a couple of trucks, so people do have to be patient,” he said.

If you spot a stranded or injured seal near you, it is very important to keep your distance and to call the NYS Stranding Hotline at 631-369-9829. The 150-foot distance (same goes for deceased marine mammals) is recommended, as seals can become aggressive if provoked – at times biting, which could cause major wounds and possibly infections to humans, according to the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW).

If you feel strongly about helping these animals, consider joining Riverhead’s volunteer team. Information can be found at riverheadfoundation.org/join-us.

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