Carolina Beach, N.C. — The rare sight of a gray seal along the North Carolina coast is making quite a splash with beach-goers and prompting officials to issue a warning to those who may want to approach the animal.
The seal was first seen May 16 on the north end of Wrightsville Beach and has moved to Carolina Beach, then Kure Beach.
“This is the furthest south sighting we have had of this species in North Carolina,” said Ann Pabst, a marine biology professor with the University of North Carolina at Wilmington.
She said the seal is spending time on land while it molts, or replaces its fur coat.
“This seal is a rare visitor to our waters, and it is apparently going to enjoy the holiday weekend with us,” Pabst said. “It has chosen our beaches for its molting rest, and we need to respect its needs for space.”
Seals are federally protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, so it is against the law for people to approach them. That may be a tough call for some because the seal seems to be friendly and unafraid of people, Pabst said.
In an effort to counter potential harm to the seal, officials are distributing fliers that warn people to stay 50 yards away from the seal, not to feed it or get between it and the water. The flier also warns people to keep their children and pets away from the seal.
The flier urges people to call 911 if they observe violations.
"This individual seems to be particularly friendly and has even been described as approaching people," Pabst said. "It is our responsibility to move away from the seal if this happens."
Kure Beach resident Bryan Jones saw the seal Thursday resting underneath a fishing pier.
"It was just interesting," he said. "I was working up at Jack Mackerel's this morning and...they called me and told me to come down to look at it."