Beachgoers warned against contact with seal pups

Officials from the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration's Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary say newborn harbor seals, which are born in late winter and spring, are often mistaken for orphans when they are left unattended and can be inadvertently separated from their mothers.

The mothers tend to leave their pups alone on the beach while they're feeding at sea before returning to nurse the pup.

Also, the presence of humans or dogs could prevent the mother from reuniting with her pup.

Interactions could lead to pup deaths, the marine sanctuary reported.

Some wildlife experts recommend staying at least 300 feet from any seal pups.

"The rule of thumb is, if a seal reacts to your presence -- you're too close," sanctuary marine biologist Jan Roletto said in a statement. "Avoid eye contact and back away slowly until they no longer notice you."

Additionally, seals are protected under the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act. Interference with the animals could result in legal penalties.

Concerned beachgoers who wish to report an orphaned or injured seal are encouraged to contact a park ranger or the Marine Mammal Center (415) 289-SEAL (7325).

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