Thursday, October 21, 2010

Wrong Way Seal in the Charles River!

The Head of the Charles Regatta Will Have a Unique Head in the Charles

Cambridge, Mass. - October 21, 2010
Seeing a seal in Boston is not an uncommon event whether on a trip to the Aquarium or on a cruise by the outer Boston Harbor Islands. What is unusual is to see a seal in the freshwater section of the Charles River above the dam and locks that create the beautiful basin that lies between Boston and Cambridge. That has been the double-take experience of Boston Duck Tour operators, the M.I.T. sailing coach and staff at Community Boating over the last several days.

The animal appears to be a young harbor seal that slipped through the boat locks just east of the Zakim Bridge late last week. It was first spotted last Friday afternoon by a Boston Duck Tour operator in the water east of the Museum of Science. The seal was spotted again by Duck Tour operators on Sunday and Monday afternoons. Tuesday afternoon, Matt Lindblad, MIT's sailing coach, was on the water videotaping his practice when a curious head popped up in the middle of the river among his sailors east of the Mass Ave. bridge. Click play to see the head pop up in this video.

Wednesday afternoon, staff at Community Boating, just off Storrow Drive, were pulling moorings from the water when they encountered an unexpected visitor. All of the seal watchers have reported the animal as active, alert and appearing healthy.

With this weekend’s upcoming Head of the Charles Regatta, Aquarium officials are seeking the public’s help in keeping our wrong-way seal safe. Since the animal is vigorous and in good condition, wildlife officials would prefer that the young harbor seal exit via the locks. The regatta will lead to an increased amount of recreational boat traffic on the Charles and increased opportunities for the seal to make his freshwater escape. The Charles River Dam Locks are operated by the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), and the state is cooperating fully.

The seal is very active and is moving throughout the Lower Basin of the Charles, well below the location of this weekend's races. The public can help by insuring that the seal is not harassed by either ignorant or well meaning people. Seals are protected under federal law, and people are not allowed to disturb them on the water or on land.

  • Enjoy the seal, but please watch safely from at least 150 feet away.
  • Do not offer the seal food. Unfamiliar food is not good for it.
  • If on the water, do not approach the seal. If operating a motorboat and the seal appears nearby, reduce speed, watch carefully, and cut the engine if the props are a potential hazard to the seal.
  • Do not try to make the seal move.
  • Keep dogs away from the seal.
  • If the seal hauls out of the water which is very unlikely, please call the Aquarium’s Marine Animal Hotline at 617-973-5247. On water sightings need not be reported unless the seal is in distress.
Harassing or disturbing a seal is a federal crime that is enforced, and violators are subject to a large fine. More importantly during the Head of the Charles, Boston has a history of providing great hospitality for tens of thousands of visitors from all over the world. This year, we just happen to have a very unique guest, and we are confident that the public can help in providing this seal with a safe space during such a spectacular event in Boston.

[Note: This seal later returned safely to Boston Harbor. This is not the first time a wild seal has visited downtown Boston. In January of 2009, a wild harp seal visited Central Wharf, less than a block away from the Aquarium.]

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