Weanling harbor seals showing signs of failure to thrive

A reporter from the Manchester Union Leader called to interview a Marine Mammal Rescue Team member after hearing word that several deceased harbor seals have been reported on New Hampshire beaches. In this article, MMRT Assistant Sarah Toupin explains that this is the time of year when weaker weanling harbor seals are challenged. The photo below is of a healthy weanling harbor seal resting on the beach.

HealthyHarbor

Discovery of dead seals alarms beachgoers

by Jason Schreiber, Union Leader Correspondent
Published by the Union Leader, August 26, 2016

The discovery of several dead harbor seals on New Hampshire beaches has alarmed beachgoers, but experts say this is the time of year when young seals that have struggled to survive on their own are likely to die.

Members of the Seacoast Science Center’s Marine Mammal Rescue Team have responded to as many as seven dead harbor seals found on beaches in Hampton, North Hampton, Rye and Seabrook over the past week. Three other seals were found alive.

According to Sarah Toupin, assistant Marine Mammal Rescue Team coordinator, the period from late August into October is a time when seal weanlings often wash up on the beaches. Some are deceased while others may be weak and fighting to live.

Most of the seals found within the past week were young.

Toupin said the young harbor seals are typically born at the end of May and in early June and remain with their mothers for about three to four weeks.

Some are able to learn how to feed and live on their own while others are not, she said.

When they stop eating, the weanlings begin to lose weight and become susceptible to diseases like seal pox, Toupin said, adding that they are unable to fight off the illness and eventually die and wash ashore.

Toupin said it’s important for people to notify the Marine Mammal Rescue Team by calling its hotline at 997-9448 as soon as they spot a seal, dead or alive. She said the team tries to respond as quickly as possible to save those that are still alive and have shown up on the beach to rest.

“The best thing to do when you see a live seal is to call the hotline and keep away,” Toupin said, adding that approaching a seal only causes the animal to become stressed.

Seals that are found dead are usually marked with a pink or orange paint stick by members of the Marine Mammal Rescue Team. The marking makes it easier for the team to know that it’s a seal that’s already been viewed when the hotline receives multiple calls about the same dead seal.

Earlier this week, Hampton police received a report of a seal that had been spray-painted pink. Those who reported the finding were concerned that a vandal had targeted the seal, but Toupin said that’s not the case.

The team tries to leave the dead seals alone for other animals to feed off.

“It usually goes out with the next tide cycle,” she said.

The seven dead harbor seals found recently are among 62 cases of deceased marine mammals reported along the state’s beaches this year.

In addition to harp and harbor seals, two porpoises and a dolphin have washed up along with the humpback whale that was found dead in Rye in late June.

The number of dead animals so far this year is about average, Toupin said.

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