Harbor seals are a highly visible species and a popular sight on wildlife-viewing tours, especially those that occur in glacial fjords. Because of a diet comprised of fish, many of which also have commercial value, resource use by harbor seals often involves interactions with commercial and sport fishing industries in Alaska.
Federal law prohibits pursuit of marine mammals.
- Remain at least 100 yards from marine mammals.
- Time spent observing individual(s) should be limited to 30 minutes.
Even if approached by a marine mammal:
- Offering food, discarding fish or fish waste, or any other food item is prohibited.
- Do not touch or swim with the animals. They can behave unpredictably, inflict serious bite wounds, and may also transmit disease.
How to Observe Marine Mammal Behaviors and Minimize Your Impact
While viewing marine mammals, your actions should not cause a change in the behavior of the animals. Individual animal's reactions will vary; carefully observe all animals in the vicinity. Assume that your action is a disturbance and cautiously leave the vicinity if you observe behaviors such as these:
- Increased movements away from the disturbance; hurried entry into the water by many animals, or herd movement towards the water
- Increased vocalization, aggressive behavior by many animals towards the disturbance; several individuals raising their heads simultaneously.
Harbor seals are vital to traditional/subsistence use for Alaska Natives. Their meat, organs, and oil from their blubber are important parts of the diet of many Alaska Natives. Their hide is used to make many items of clothing and handicrafts. The annual subsistence harvest of harbor seals in Alaska is about 1,500 to 2,900 animals, with fewer seals harvested in recent years.