Baby Seals Are Dying Because People Are Taking Them Home

Of all the wonderful things you can take home from the beach - pretty stones, halcyon memories, sand in your shoes - this should never be one of them.

Common sense, you might think: Baby seals are not pets. Humans make very poor seal mothers. And their real mothers are rarely far behind.

But sadly, in recent months, there have been there have been at least five reported cases of humans finding seal pups - and trying to take them home.

"If there's one message I'm getting out, it's if you see a seal on the beach, let him be," Kathy Zagzebski, executive director of the National Marine Life Center, told The Dodo in Maywhen baby seal season was just ramping up. "Often mom is coming back. And call the seal rescue group in your area so we can check it out."

And yet selfishness seems to spring eternal.

In May, a woman took a harbor seal from a beach in Westport, Washington. She reportedly put the baby seal in a shopping bag, but the animal was unresponsive once she got him home. Wildlife officials were forced to euthanize the seal.

Another recent case in Oregon suggests people may be overcaring for seemingly orphaned seals. When a couple found a seal pup on a beach in Garibaldi, they didn't see the mother around and figured the baby was orphaned.

The couple draped the seal in a towel, brought her home and tried to keep her alive in the shower. Although wildlife officials brought the seal back to the beach the next day, she was later found dead.

The sad irony here is that the baby seal was likely just left on the beach while her mother scavenged for food.

"That results in a big challenge we see every year with little baby pups left on the beach perfectly OK, perfectly healthy - until people come along," Zagzebski said.

Kindness can indeed kill. And sometimes you don't even need to take an animal home to cause irreparable harm. Selfies can prove equally fatal.

But for many of us, walking away from a lone baby seal on the beach isn't easy.

"These animals have an innate charm. When you see one on the beach, they just draw you in. They're small. They're vulnerable," Jeff Boehm, executive director of The Marine Mammal Center in Northern California, told the Associated Press.

But there's nothing cute about the consequences of meddling with nature.

NOAA's Share the Shore campaign hopes to remind beachgoers that it's not only illegal to harass, disturb or move young seals or other marine mammals, but it can also be fatal.

If you come across an animal who looks to be in real trouble, call the agency's hotline at 800-853-1964.

For more information on how you can help marine animals in need, click here.