Seal pup uninjured after climbing fish ladder en route to Riverside traffic circle

A seal pup found near the traffic circle in Riverside Sunday morning suffered no injuries after climbing the fish ladder at Grangebel Park and making its way to the Riverside traffic circle, officials said.

Maxine Montello, rescue program director for New York Marine Rescue Center, said her organization obtained video showing the animal climbing the fish ladder as it made its way to the roadway. The video was obtained second hand and not from the original source, she noted.

She said an initial evaluation of the male gray harbor seal pup revealed no external injuries. The results of blood tests should be available tomorrow when the seal will also receive a full evaluation and physical from a veterinarian. For at least the next several days, the animal will stay with the organization, which performs marine mammal rescues across the region and is based at the Long Island Aquarium, coincidentally located along the same riverfront area where the seal made its way out of the water.

“Our policy is that if we’re not able to get to the animal to the beach without putting our hands on it then we do usually bring them back to our facility for an assessment,” Ms. Montello said. “Hopefully we’ll be able to move it to a beach in the next week or so.”

Southampton Town Police said they received a call around 6:30 a.m. of a seal off Woodhull Road in the Thrifty Beverage parking lot. Responding officers then found the seal moving through the roadway toward the Budget Host Inn. The animal was cared for by police until the New York Marine Rescue Center could arrive on scene. 

Employees of both Thrifty Beverage and the Budget Host Inn said they do not have security cameras facing in the direction of the traffic circle showing the animal’s path of travel.

Ms. Montello said it’s not uncommon for her organization to receive calls to help seals that make their way to land, though such rescues occur more often along Dune Road and in Hampton Bays. To find one at the traffic circle in Riverhead is certainly rare.

She said she believes in this case the animal was foraging on alewives in the Peconic River before losing its way.

“These animals start wandering up the beach paths and end up kind of in human territory,” she said. “So we do see it happen quite a lot. We’ve picked up these little gray seals in people’s backyards, near roadsides, they’ve traveled pretty far, you know, several miles at one time. So it’s not too abnormal.”

One important thing for the public to know is that the animals should not be touched.

“They’re federally protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which requires people to stay a minimum of 150 feet away,” Ms. Montello said. “They are wild animals and though they’re so cute and small, it’s critical for people to call our 24 hour hotline to report these individuals.”

That hotline for sightings is (631) 369-9829.

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story referred to the New York Marine Rescue Center by its former name, the Riverhead Foundation.