By David Madden and Alexandria Hoff

RANCOCAS, NJ, (CBS) — There’s a chubby little visitor along the Rancocas Creek in Burlington County, New Jersey these days. And while the harbor seal may be cute, you’d best keep your distance.

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It’s not that the seal, which has been spotted near Willingboro, will harm you, but there are laws protecting it.

“If you approach it and the animal jumps in the water, that’s called harassment,” says Bob Schoelkopf with the Marine Mammal Stranding Center. “You’ve actually caused the animal to deviate from its normal behavior.”

That could cost you $20,000 and your boat, if you have one. Mind you, from all indications, Schoelkopf says the seal appears to be fine. Well fed, in fact, on herring and other fish that are in the creek right now.

“My dad told me there was a seal out back and I didn’t believe him,” said Willingboro resident, Dalton Bowden.

In the last two weeks the ocean-dwelling Harbor Seal has been popping up in the waters near Bowden’s home.

“I was surprised,” he said, “I wasn’t expecting to see it.”

Schoelkopf wasn’t as surprised. It turns out that wandering seals are quite common, but that’s not all good.

“We’ve actually had people wrap seals in their coat and throw them in the truck of their car to take them home,” said Schoelkopf.

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He says that shallow and narrow places like the Rancocas can be especially dangerous.

 

”If come up to it, number one, he is going to jump in the water and you can’t see below the surface. Your boat could run over it before you even know,”said Schoelkopf.

 

He points to a resident rescue pup at the center; “The animal cannot use its rear flippers to propel itself through the water.”

 

Paralyzed – he says after an ancounter with a boater in a South Jersey waterway.

Once the supply wanes and the weather warms, Schoelkopf expects the seal will return to the Delaware Bay.

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The center is keeping an eye on the seal.