Among all the animals on the Belgian coast, more and more seals are spending a few hours on our beaches or in our dunes. Seeing them is always a moment of wonder for walkers, but there are also reflexes that must be acquired to protect the animal… but also to protect yourself.
Sabine doesn’t want to forget her holiday on the Belgian coast, which took place at the end of March. She contacted us via the orange Alert us button to tell us about one of her most beautiful encounters. The professional soldier was walking on the beach when her gaze suddenly wandered into the distance, towards a breakwater. “I saw a small head looking for its way“, She says. “I couldn’t believe it was a little seal. It was amazing, a true gift of life.“
When the surprise is over, the 45-year-old comes to her senses and thinks. Because, of course, the curious began to gather near the animal. The day before she had seen a small sign in Nieuwport advising what to do if you see a seal: stay away and walk the dogs on a leash. “I had to intervene with a person who wasn’t holding their dog‘ she recalls. “It could have ended in a confrontation between the two animals. But otherwise, people kept a safe distance.”
An association takes care of the seals
She then decided to call the police. “You are used to“, She says. “They contacted a trade association, which quickly took matters into their own hands.“This club is the North Seal Team. It was founded a few years ago when the seal population was increasing in our waters and today has more than 120 volunteers.
Els Deryck is one of them. It explains the various tasks of the association. “First, we want to raise awareness of good behavior“, She explains.”Then we have constant surveillance near the Ostend beach because we know there will always be seals there.“The team also has a mobile brigade that criss-crosses the entire coast.”We are ready to intervene regardless of location. People can message us via Whatsapp.“The contact number is 0491/743.278.
But why do seals get so close to people on the Belgian coast??
There are two types of seals on the Belgian coast: seals that come from the south and gray seals that come from the north. There is therefore a large presence of these animals in the North Sea all year round. “In fact, the little grays can’t swim‘ explains the volunteer from the North Seal Team.So when she comes to the beach with her mother and she goes to get food, they are alone. The problem is that when she sees people around her baby, she doesn’t come back.“
If the seals come to the coast and even to the dunes, it is largely used for rest in winter or after a storm. “And that’s where it gets dangerous because there are people and dogs that can bother them‘ she emphasizes. “Therefore, sometimes we have to entrust the little ones to the Sealife aquarium. We avoid this as much as possible as the journey can be very stressful.“
To protect the seals on the beach, the “North Seal Team” sets up a safety zone of about fifty meters. “And we take turns until the animal is rested enough to start on its ownsaid Els Deryck. “This often takes many hours and has already taken several days.“
A seal is cute but also mean. It bites very hard and deals a lot of damage.
With her contact, Sabine also wanted to inform Walloon tourists about the right measures to take in the event of an encounter with a seal. “It’s a pity that there aren’t explanatory panels everywhere‘ she regrets.I come from Malmedy and we know what to do in front of a deer or wild boar. But facing a sigil is not the same.”
“Education of Walloons and residents of Brussels“
The North Seal Team page confirms that French speakers are less informed about the procedure to be followed. “The Flemish have read many articles, but not the Walloons or the people of Brussels“explains Els De Ryck.”They are very fond of animals, but don’t have the right reflexes at all. For example, they tend to approach each other. But actually, a seal is cute, but also mean. It bites very hard and does a lot of damage. Especially when the animal is stressed.“
The current priority of the association is therefore raising awareness. And for this, the “North Seal Team” is installing panels all over the coast.
Seals were sighted on the Belgian coast last year: