I’m not going to sugarcoat this for you. We’re all adults, and we should be able to deal with upsetting revelations with the dignity decorum demands of us. Okay, here it goes: some people are so annoyed with the resurgent gray seal population around Cape Cod that they’ve suggested culling the population, i.e. shooting gray seals right between their wide, trusting eyes.
What???? Aren’t there only like five seals left in New England anyway?
Gray seals have been mostly absent from North American waters in the modern era, thanks to people. According to the New York Times, the gray seal was a rare and auspicious sight before the 1980s thanks to seal bounties in Massachusetts and Maine “that researchers estimate killed up to 135,000 before the last was lifted in 1962.” A decade later, the Marine Mammal Protection Act outlawed seal killing. New legal protections for seals have almost been too effective, a position you’re more likely to hold if you abhor adorable things — a 1994 survey counted 2,035 gray seals in Cape Code, and a 2011 study counted more than 15,700.
But, who the hell would want to go on a seal-killing cruise through Cape Cod?
Fishermen (and nautically-adventurous sociopaths). When seals aren’t busy eating all the available fish, they’re driving fish away from fishermen, making it hard for the frustrated fishing boat captains of Chatham to earn a decent living. Fishermen who grew accustomed to hauling in 30,000 pounds of seafood daily have had to lower their expectations thanks to the resurgent and ravenous gray seal population.
Oh, well...still! Seals have been around longer than us! They have first killing rights when it comes to fish and edible cephalopods.
That’s the contention of many marine biologists, but, as it turns out, seals can be real jerks, just like any other mammal. They can cut through fishing nets and steal a bountiful catch, and their increasing numbers have caught the attention of great white sharks, which have been lured closer to Cape Cod’s shores in recent years by the merry flopping of gray seals.
Researchers would like to remind angry fishermen and wary bathers, however, that gray seals aren’t an invasive species — we just murdered so many of them that they almost entirely vanished for a long time. They’re back now and people in the Northeast just have to deal with it, and resist the urge to cull seal populations the way landlubbers cull deer populations. Seals and deer are not the same at all, because where seals are magical, playful sea creatures that belly crawl adorably all over the beach, deers are a horrible pestilence, spreading lyme disease and causing horrible car accidents.
Image via Getty, Dan Kitwood