The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation on Friday issued its annual reminder to New Yorkers to steer clear of marine mammals that have come ashore. Whales, dolphins, porpoises, and seals, the D.E.C. reminds us, "are protected by federal and state laws to ensure they are not harmed and to keep people at a safe distance."
Basil Seggos, commissioner of the D.E.C., emphasized that while New York's marine waters "provide vital nursery and foraging grounds" for a variety of sea mammals and sea turtles, some of them do become stranded on occasion. His message: Leave them alone.
Those animals, said Mr. Seggos, "will need professional medical care," and the best way to help is to reach out to the stranded-animal hotline at 631-369-9828.
Marine mammals and sea turtles are a growing presence in the New York Bight in recent years, said Rob DiGiovanni, executive director of the Atlantic Marine Conservation Society, in the D.E.C. announcement.
His organization stresses safe and responsible wildlife viewing — Montauk Point is a popular place to observe seals in wintertime — and he reiterated Mr. Seggos's urgings that the public refrain from contact with marine mammals and sea turtles, even if they're stranded or in some apparent danger.
Harp, grey, and harbor seals are regular visitors to New York beaches in the winter and engender all sorts of cutesy oohing and aahing from fans, but as the D.E.C. notes, "remember that while they may appear friendly and adorable, seals are wild animals with sharp teeth, capable of biting and sharing disease, so always keep people and pets at least 50 yards away from seals."
Fines for touching, feeding, or harassing marine mammals can run up to $20,000 with possible jail time of up to one year for violations, courtesy of the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act. Those who happen upon a person harassing or endangering New York's marine mammal life in Montauk or anywhere else can call the D.E.C.'s Environmental Conservation police at 844-DEC-ECOS.
The D.E.C. encourages people to understand the marine animals in our midst — just don't get too close or too friendly, they urge. To that end, the East Hampton Trails Preservation Society offers semi-regular seal-watching guided walks at Montauk Point with an emphasis on following the rules and refraining from contact with the animals.
The next one is a two mile there-and-back hike down the seal haul out trail located along Block Island Sound, on Saturday, Jan. 28, at 9 a.m. Interested parties should park off the blacktop on Camp Hero Road and contact Carol Andrews at 631-725-3367 for more information.