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Why Animals Do The Thing


Rachel Garner

Cute? No. Animal friendship? Definitely not. Safe for anyone involved? Hell no.

This gifset from this video isn’t quite as prevalent on social media as it was in the height of it’s popularity, but it’s such a misleading and potentially dangerous and expensive mistake that it’s worth picking apart. 

In the video, you can see that the seal is just chilling on the beach when people walk up to it and reach down to touch it. The dog is already off-leash near the animal, which is a bad idea - you never know if the dog or the seal is going to be reactive to the other. The seal’s immediate reaction to being touched is to try to leave as best it can. Because most seal species have fused hip joints (not all, but most) they can’t rotate their flippers to walk the way we’re used to seeing sea lions do, they’re generally very restricted in their ability to move on land. It heads in what appears to be a direct line for the water away from the person touching it. It doesn’t go to cuddle the dog; it gets stuck on it. 

The seal is now stressed and unable to maneuver away easily from the dog it’s on top of and is being surrounded by at least two people who continue to touch it. In the video, the seal looks around continuously for an escape route while the dog shows signals of distinct unease at the situation: lip licks, yawns, squinty eyes, and looking up at the person holding the camera. The video ends with both animals in the same position, so there’s no further information about how this ends.

It’s never a good idea to approach wildlife on beaches, and you should certainly never let your animal off-leash around them (or bring an animal near them at all). Seals can seriously fuck a dog (or a human) up - for all that they’re not super mobile on land and look rotund and adorable, they're still pretty serious predators and have the teeth to back that up. While the people in this video don’t appear to be speaking English, if you were to do this in the USA, it’s a minimum of a $5000 fine for harassing protected marine mammals. Basically the way the law works is that if you’re close enough to a mammal for it to notice you, you’re in violation of the MMPA. If you see a seal, just leave it alone - if you’re worried, call a stranding network to come evaluate it. Don’t go near it. Even if it’s a seal pup, it’s probably fine. In the summers, females leave their pups on the beach while they go hunt and if you disturb it or get too close, they won’t return and then it will need to be rescued. Sometimes the yearlings look super scraped up because they’re learning to haul out themselves but they’re still in all likelihood completely fine.