Juvenile gray seals like these are vulnerable to human interactions because they're easy to view in the wild. Photo: NOAA Fisheries

Federal Investigation into Seal Found Shot at Fenwick Island

The discovery of an injured gray seal at the popular vacation spot of Fenwick Island, Delaware, has now turned into a federal investigation.

According to NOAA Fisheries, the juvenile gray seal was found in April with bite injuries from another animal. At that time it was still alive. The Marine Education, Research, and Rehabilitation Institute (MERR) responded to rescue the stranded seal and brought it to the National Aquarium’s Ocean City facility. Unfortunately, the seal didn’t survive.

It was only when MERR performed a necropsy (or animal autopsy) that they determined the seal had been shot with a firearm, in addition to suffering from animal bite wounds.

It’s not clear whether the seal was shot and then targeted by other animals once it was wounded, or attacked by an animal and later shot.

Now, NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement is investigating the seal’s death and is asking the public for information. They’re offering a $4,000 reward for information that leads officials to identify, prosecute, and arrest, convict or issue a penalty to the person responsible.

NOAA is staying tight-lipped about some of the specifics of this case, but NOAA Fisheries details why gray seals are sometimes targets of human attacks. On its website the agency writes, “Gray seals are easy to view in the wild, but this puts them at higher risk of harassment and in some cases, even intentional human-related injuries and death.”

Because they sometimes get used to being fed by humans, NOAA says, they will change their natural hunting practices and catch bait directly from anglers’ fishing gear. Sadly, according to the agency, “they fall victim to retaliation (such as shooting) by frustrated boaters and fishermen.”

The seal was found April 19, 2024. If you know anything about the seal’s shooting or the people behind it, please call the NOAA Enforcement Hotline at (800) 853-1964. You can make tips anonymously.

NOAA reminds everyone that harassing, harming, killing or even feeding wild seals is illegal under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

Violations can be prosecuted civilly or criminally and are punishable by up to $100,000 in fines and up to 1 year in jail per violation. Report any injured, entangled or dead marine mammals to the Greater Atlantic Marine Mammal Stranding Network 24-hour Hotline at (866) 755-6622.