What can you do?
Harbor seals are listed as “Least Concern” on the IUCN Red List, which means that overall their populations are doing well on a global scale. However, there are five sub-species of harbor seals and certain populations are in decline. Harbor seals typically live in coastal areas, which are frequently over-fished. To do your part in making sustainable seafood choices, look at the consumer guides on Seafood Watch.
Seals are still hunted in Greenland and Alaska for food and clothing. Additionally, seals can still be hunted or killed to protect commercial fisheries in Norway, Iceland, and in the United Kingdom. Unfortunately, illegal unlicensed hunting occurs in other areas. Like all other marine mammals, harbor seals are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) of 1972. This means it is illegal to attempt to swim with, touch, or feed seals. In addition, it is illegal to approach wild harbor seals within 50 yards. This is especially important if there are young harbor seal pups with their mothers; often the disturbance of humans getting too close will cause the mother seal to abandon her pup in fear, and if mom and pup are unable to reunite, the pup will not survive on its own.
Another factor harming harbor seal populations is run-off from both industrial and agricultural pollutants, such as pesticides. Coastal areas close to humans provide a great habitat for harbor seals, but they also contain large amounts of pollutants. Although some contaminants in the water can be linked directly to mortality, most pollutants contribute to suppression of the seals’ immune systems and overall poor health and body condition.