While one young gray seal lounged on the sand in East Atlantic Beach and appeared healthy, two others on Long Island beaches had to be rescued Wednesday, a nonprofit official said.
Besides looking lethargic, the two were being pestered by people in a way that is barred by federal law and can trigger enormous fines.
They will join 17 other gray seals, all about 6 months old, that are being cared for by the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation, said rescue program supervisor Maxine Montello.
This time of year is considered to be the full throes of “pup season,” she said.
The first seal monitored Wednesday “seems to be OK,” and was exhibiting normal behavior by, for example, rolling around, said Montello.
That was not the case for a juvenile on Fire Island and another at Gilgo Beach. “The two seals looked a little bit lethargic; we also had some issues with people trying to touch the seals,” she said by telephone.
Pouring water on them, letting their dogs get too close, and even trying to push one seal back into the water were among the illegal acts that the beachgoers committed, she said.
Those individuals risked fines of as much as $100,000 and up to a year in prison. The federal law that protects gray seals requires people to stay 150 feet away from them.
All the seals being cared for at the foundation are expected to recover from “critical” ailments: infected flippers, lacerations caused by boat strikes or other animals, and “a lot of entanglements,” she said.
Carelessly discarded fishing line can also cause problems for seals.“It cuts pretty deep into their skin, unfortunately,” Montello said.
Plastic bags, rings from six packs of soda or beer, and the like can also mean a painful, lingering death for the sea creatures.
Restoring just one seal to health costs about $10,000 for expenses that include medications and tanks to house the animals, she said.
The foundation monitors the seals that the public reports to it on its 24-hour hotline. “Unless there is a major injury, any blood or if they look super-dehydrated,” Montello said, the seals are left alone. Any change in their behavior, such as lying flat or not moving around as much, can trigger a visit from the rescue team.
Right now, its five members are feeling the pressure of handling 50-plus calls a day from Montauk to the Rockaways, Montello said. “We try to get to everybody as much as we can.”
Nassau’s animal control officers will continue to check on the gray seal that came ashore in East Atlantic Beach.
This year, the foundation’s patients are being named after ice cream flavors. Vanilla Bean, a female who arrived on March 6, probably suffering from an infection, will be released on Thursday at 6 p.m. from Ponquogue Bay in Hampton Bays.
The public is invited to witness her return to the Atlantic Ocean.
As the waters warm off Long Island, she likely will make her way up the New England coast to Canada’s cooler waters.
“She’s nice and fat now; we’re hoping for a great release,” Montello said.
And with any luck, the foundation hopes to also set free another species it has been caring for this spring.
“Hopefully, we will have sea turtles as well.”
To report a stranded seal, call the foundation’s 24-hour hot line at 631-369-9829.