If you see these young marine mammals ashore this summer, leave them aloneBy Donna Buttarazzi
Updated Jul 13, 2016 at 2:53 PM
Link to Story: http://www.seacoastonline.com/news/20160713/help-us-help-sealsThis baby harbor seal was rescued by Marine Mammals
of Maine on Wells Beach last Wednesday and is doing
well. Courtesy photo.
WELLS – A baby harbor seal that was rescued by Marine Mammals of Maine on Wells Beach last Wednesday is doing well thanks to volunteers and Wells Police officers, but those with the organization say the outcome is often more tragic when people interfere with seal pups on the beaches.
Dominique Walk, assistant stranding coordinator for Marine Mammals of Maine, a nonprofit providing response, assistance and care for stranded marine animals said the most important thing people can do when they see a seal pup on a beach this summer is to leave it alone.
“The majority of rescues are because of human involvement,” Walk said. “People have good intentions, they don’t mean to do harm, but anything they do to interfere with the seal pup puts it at risk.”
Walk said this seal pup had been spotted on beaches from Ogunquit to Biddeford Pool and they had been monitoring her for two days. Marine Mammals of Maine volunteer Saundra Skozen, a dispatcher for the Wells Police Department, was sent to check on her and ultimately assisted in the pups transport to the triage center in Harpswell.
The closing of the Marine Animal Rehabilitation Center at the University of New England in May, 2014 has increased the pressure on Marine Mammals of Maine staff and volunteers during the busiest time of the year. Marine Mammals of Maine works with two out of state centers, and both are full. There are no rehab spots open for baby seals right now, and they can only hold seals at the triage center in Harpswell for 96 hours, before they have to be euthanized if a rehab spot isn’t available.
The baby seal found on Wells Beach was very lucky, specialists at Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut were able to juggle the seals they had there and make room for her.
“We called rehab centers and basically begged,” Walk said. “Even though they were at capacity with 15 other animals, they made room for her.” Skozen was relieved to hear they found a spot for the seal rescued in Wells.“There were people gathering around all over the place, that’s the biggest challenge is keeping people away,” Skozen said. She said she was first called to check the seal pup’s flipper, which appeared to be injured, and then pressed into service when she needed to be transported. Skozen is a trained volunteer for Marine Mammals of Maine, and feels it’s important to educate the public to ensure the best outcome for all of the seal pups that share the beaches with people.
Harbor seal pupping season and tourist season collide.
Walk said this time of year is the busiest for Marine Mammals of Maine. From the beginning of harbor seal pupping season in May through September they will respond to roughly 300 calls about seals. Pupping season coincides with the arrival of tourists on Maine beaches which can make for a dangerous situation for the new babies.Before the pups are weaned, mother seals will drop off the babies on a beach where it’s quiet while they go off to hunt for food, but a beach that’s quiet at 3 a.m. can become busy with beachgoers quickly this time of year.
It’s hard for humans, who would never leave a newborn alone, to understand this behavior, Walk said. Another big misconception people have, according to Walk, is that the baby seals need to be wet. Seals are only semi-aquatic, and never need to be wet or in the water. Beachgoers should never pour water on a seal.Walk said people see a baby seal on the beach and they think it’s been abandoned, but it’s probably just sleeping.“They’re newborns, they need a lot of sleep,” Walk said.
By July all of the seal pups have been weaned and are now on their own to find food and survive. Many of the pups seen on beaches during this time of the summer are resting, they’re simply exhausted, Walk said.“They can be a little skinny, they’re learning to hunt and it’s a tough job. And they still need a lot of sleep too.”
What you can do to help
“The most important thing people can do is to leave them alone,” Walk said. Harbor seals are federally protected, which means people must stay a minimum of 150 feet away from them wherever they are.“Don’t touch them, and don’t pour water on them,” Walk said. “Don’t try to push them back into the water, and don’t pull them out of the water. They are very susceptible to stress.”
People can also help by keeping other people and dogs away from the seal.
Beachgoers should call the Marine Mammals of Maine hotline to report the location of any harbor seals they see. Volunteers will be sent to assess the condition of the seal and they will be monitored. They would also like to hear of any deceased seals so they can monitor the population.“Help us help the seals,” Walk said.
Marine Mammals of Maine relies almost entirely on private donations to fund annual operating costs. Donated funds go towards stranding response truck repairs, maintenance, and fuel, animal care supplies, hotline phone plan costs, and staffing. Go to www.mmome.org/donate or call 207-233-3199.People can also donate needed supplies through the center’s Amazon Wish List also found on their website www.mmome.org.