Young adult harp seal hangs out on Edgemere dock.
Young adult harp seal hangs out on Edgemere dock. (Kristine Weber)

The Baltimore area has been playing host this week to an unusual visitor from up north - a harp seal.  Oran Warner said it was spotted around noon Tuesday sunning itself on the end of his dock in Edgemere.

When he first spotted it, Warner said, "we thought it was a some kind of log or something.  We walked down closer and (said), 'Wait a minute - is that a seal?'  We got closer, and sure enough it was a seal."

Warner, 26, texted his cousin, Kristine Weber, who came over and took photographs of the seal, seen above.

Thinking it may be injured or sick, Warner said he called the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, which initially informed him he must be mistaken, and that his visitor was more likely an otter.

Another look convinced him it was no otter, and its identity was confirmed when a group from the National Aquarium in Baltimore came out to check up on it. He said they told him it was a young adult harp seal, maybe two or three years old and weighing about 250 pounds.

Jennifer Dittmar, the aquarium's marine mammal stranding coordinator, said in winter harp seals do swim south along the East Coast from their home waters in the North Atlantic and Arctic oceans. They're seen around Ocean City and Assateague Island, she said, but less often turn up in the Cheasapeake Bay.

Harp seals have a normal lifespan of 20 years and feed on fish and crustaceans, according to National Geographic. When under water, they can remain submerged for up to 15 minutes. Baby harp seals are known for their fluffy white fur coats, which have made them targets of hunters on their breeding grounds in Newfoundland. 

"By all indications it seems to be a healthy animal,'' Dittmar said of Warner's visitor. The seal "has been really active," she added, which is an indication that it's likely feeding in the area.  It is in really good body condition, so at this time we're just monitoring the animal's behavior and making sure that he continues to stay healthy.

"Part of that is trying to keep folks away from him so he can be a seal and do what seals do, which is pretty much sleep and eat."

Weber said the seal "was kind of posing for me" as she photographed it.  She said it hung out around the floating dock at the end of her cousin's pier Tuesday, slipping in the water and climbing back out a couple times.  He was there again on Wednesday, but Warner said his guest was gone on Thursday.