Marine Mammal Sighting?

  • Harbor Seals
    Harbor Seals  A group of harbor seals (Phoca vitulina) hauled out on rip rap near the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel.  Mark Swingle (VAQS)
  • Minke Whale
    Minke Whale  A team from the VA Marine Resources Commission monitors a minke whale that grounded on a sandbar near the mouth of the York River in 2002.  
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I've seen what appears to be a dolphin, manatee, porpoise, seal, whale, or other marine mammal. What should I do?

Many species of marine mammals are common in and around Chesapeake Bay. Dolphin and large whales are typically seen every year. Seals are mainly seen during the winter months. Manatee, which are usually found in warm, tropical waters, have been reported in Chesapeake Bay as well.  If you see any marine mammal swimming freely without injury, enjoy the experience.

The Virginia Aquarium Stranding Center tracks reported sightings of many of the marine mammal species.

If you see a marine mammal that appears to be injured or entangled, immediately call the Virginia Aquarium Stranding Center (VAQS) Hotline, 757-385-7575, to report the sighting. If you are out of cell phone range, radio the US Coast Guard via VHF Channel 16. They can then contact VAQS.

If you see a seal in our area, note the location and contact VAQS at 757-385-7575. Photos, if possible, are always good to help with identification. For your safety, do not approach the animal.

Remember, seals and other marine mammals are protected by the US Marine Mammal Protection Act. "It is against the law to touch, feed, or otherwise harass seals; harassment occurs when YOUR behavior changes their behavior."  When viewing seals, you need to stay at least 50 yards away. For viewing large whales and other marine mammals by boat, you need to stay at least 100 – 500 yards away and never approach them head-on.

(Some of this material is adapted from NOAA's Seal Watching Guidelines and Northeast Marine Mammal & Sea Turtle Protection Guidelines for Recreational Boaters & Fishermen.)