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Maryland’s Coast Receives “Seals” Of Approval
Governor O’Malley welcomes recent visitors
OCEAN CITY, MD — Governor Martin O’Malley has been a strong advocate for protecting the health of our environment and preserving Maryland’s natural beauty for future generations and visitors alike.
In recent years, Maryland’s coastline also has earned the distinction of becoming a preferred destination for large numbers of Arctic seals. Governor O'Malley and Ocean City Mayor Meehan welcome the sea mammals to Maryland's beautiful shorelines and thank them for their "seal" of approval.
“The appearance of Arctic seals in our waters and on our beaches reminds us of the wonderful diversity of nature and also of the importance of our conservation and preservation efforts,” Governor O’Malley said. “Nature knows no borders. What we do in Maryland has an impact on the global ecosystem.”
Grey seals, hooded seals and harp seals have been seen frolicking on coastal beaches and foraging off Maryland waters in increasing numbers in recent years.
“We are very pleased to receive this endorsement," Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan said. "Ocean City takes tremendous pride in our 10 miles of clean, beautiful beaches and obviously our visitors agree. We realize the importance of protecting the environment for all of our citizens and visitors."
According to Department of Natural Resources biologist Tricia Kimmel, acting coordinator of the Maryland Marine Mammal and Sea Turtle Stranding program, the seals usually are not injured or lost. Scientists believe the animals have expanded their foraging range to include much of the Northeastern seaboard, including Maryland.
“We’re not entirely sure what’s happening,” Kimmel says. “There are many theories, the best being that seal populations are expanding, thanks in part to the effects of the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which was passed in 1972.”
The animals appear most frequently in late winter and spring. Sightings are getting fairly common along the coastal beaches; Ocean City averages about 20 reports a year. Seals also have been sighted in the coastal bays and on occasion in the Chesapeake Bay. Kimmel says it’s too early to tell how the seals’ new foraging patterns may affect Maryland’s coastal and bay fisheries. To date, there’s been no evidence of a negative impact, she said.
Jennifer Dittmar, the National Aquarium’s coordinator of the Maryland Marine Mammal and Sea Turtle Stranding program cautions the public against approaching the animals, even out of an impulse to help them. Seals are semi-aquatic mammals, which means they spend part of their lives on land and part in the water. Seals may haul out on land to rest, to get warm or to molt. The animals most likely are not sick or injured, although they may be tired after their long journey. In addition, a mother seal may leave her pup on the beach for a period of time while she hunts for food. The public is urged instead to contact the stranding network through its 24-hour hotline at 1-800-628-9944.
Maryland’s program was established in the fall of 1990 and is a joint project of DNR’s Cooperative Oxford Lab and the National Aquarium in Baltimore. The network has responded to hundreds of calls since its founding, with Cooperative Oxford Lab personnel responding to reports of dead animals and the Aquarium responding to live stranded animals.
Citizens can learn more about the Maryland Marine Mammal and Sea Turtle Stranding program at http://www.dnr.state.md.us/fisheries/oxford/research/fwh/strandingprogram.html.
Click here for a high resolution photo of the baby seal.
May 15, 2008
Contact: Wiley Hall
Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is the state agency responsible for providing natural and living resource-related services to citizens and visitors. DNR manages more than 449,000 acres of public lands and 17,000 miles of waterways, along with Maryland's forests, fisheries and wildlife for maximum environmental, economic and quality of life benefits. A national leader in land conservation, DNR-managed parks and natural, historic and cultural resources attract 12 million visitors annually. DNR is the lead agency in Maryland's effort to restore the Chesapeake Bay, the state's number one environmental priority. Learn more at www.dnr.maryland.gov.