There’s a Seal in the Charles River

The Museum of Science and New England Aquarium are on the case. Meanwhile, here's what you oughta know.

There’s something about marine life that brings out a childlike sense of wonder in all of us. This week, it’s the ongoing case of a seal that has somehow found its way into the Charles River.

The MOS tweeted Monday afternoon: “One of our educators spotted a seal in the Charles today! @NEAQ, @MassDFG any idea what would bring a seal this way?”

What followed the museum’s initial tweet was a friendly exchange between two of New England’s finest institutions. The aquarium replied, “Likely a wrong turn looking for food, @museumofscience. Not the 1st time this happened!” with a link to a blog post about a similar incident in 2010. The aquarium’s tips if you spot a seal include the following: 1) Enjoy the sight, but keep your distance, 2) Do not offer the seal food, and 3) Keep dogs away.

Above: A seal sighting in the Charles River in 2010—not quite as dramatic as the Sunfish Bros, but still cool.

The New England Aquarium noted that they’d alerted their marine animal rescue team, tweeting out, “This fella is on our radar now, thanks!”

Katie Slivensky was the first from the Museum of Science to spot what looked like a “shiny black football” last week. When it turned and bobbed about, she and her colleagues realized, “It looks like a seal…and it acts like a seal…” It wasn’t until they saw it again Monday though that they were sure. Slivensky was prepared to snap a photo this time.

Then on Tuesday afternoon at about 3:30 p.m., another sighting:

Above: Katie Slivensky and her coworkers spotted the seal again Tuesday afternoon.

“This could be a local, adult harbor seal or a juvenile harp seal just visiting Massachusetts from Canada for the winter,” explains Tony LaCasse, the New England Aquarium’s media relations director, via email.

In reference to the 2010 sighting, LaCasse explains:

Back in October 2010 in the week before the Head of the Charles, there was a big male harbor seal that got into the Charles. He was there for probably a week. He was often spotted by the Ducks, and after a few days, he was seen closer to the dam as if he was trying to figure how to get out. When the dam operator saw the seal, he opened the riverside gate to create current and see if the seal would follow, which it did. The dam operator called the Aquarium after they had closed the lock. We went to check him out. The seal had pulled himself up on to the narrow berm on the side of the lock. He was annoyed, active and very robust, maybe even portly!

Clearly, he had enjoyed several days of feasting on freshwater fish on the upriver side of the dam. Large carp, bass, perch and other species that in their lifetimes were the biggest predators in the Charles River, had a rude awakening as a 220 pound harbor seal found them extremely easy pickings.

LaCasse says the current seal can probably spend a couple of weeks in freshwater and likely found its way into the Charles following a school of spawning fish.

Nonetheless, the aquarium would appreciate the public’s help in snapping some better pics. Keep a safe a distance of course, but if you do get a nice photo or video, send it on over to (and to me!

As for the Museum of Science? They responded, “Awesome! And if you happen to notice any dinosaur fossils, we’re happy to help.”

Well, we’ve already seen a couple bald eagles on the Charles this year too—so surely a T. rex can’t be far behind?

Updated Tuesday, 4/5/16, 5:30 p.m., with comment and video from Katie Slivensky of the Museum of Science.



More about seals »
More about those bald eagles »
Oh hey, did you know you can fish the Charles? »