Harbor seals bear their young from late April through June. As a result, the chance of seeing seals on our beaches, more specifically seal pups, increases. If you see a marine mammal on the beach, live or dead, it is important to keep back 150 feet and call the Seacoast Science Center Marine Mammal Rescue (MMR) hotline at 603-997-9448 (from Essex, MA to the Maine border).
“It is vital that we do not interrupt the important bond and life-learning process that is happening between a mother seal and her pup during this time,” said MMR Manager Ashley Stokes. “The mother seal will leave her pup on the beach at times, while she is off feeding. It is critical that we give the pup space so the mother will return to nurse and care for the pup.”
Seals are semi-aquatic, meaning that it is normal for them to spend time on land. But there are times when a marine mammal comes onto shore because it is sick or injured. “Once we receive a report of an animal, we immediately dispatch a team member to assess the animal. Live animals are monitored to determine whether intervention is necessary, and signs and a safety perimeter are put up,” said Stokes.
“We gather morphometrics data and photos on all animals, live and dead, which are input into a national database. Dead animals of scientific value are recovered and a full post mortem examination is conducted to determine cause of death and monitor health trends. This is why it is important that beachgoers call our hotline as soon as an animal is spotted.”
In normal circumstances, a volunteer field responder team member would stay on the beach to educate the public and observe the animal, however protocols have been adjusted in light of the Covid-19 pandemic. Stokes explains, “For the time being, until restrictions are lifted, we have made the decision to halt volunteer response and utilize staff members only.”
With the beaches within MMR’s territory either closed or having no parking access, there’s quite possibly no one to see or report a seal on the beach. However, this may benefit the seal pups as one of the primary causes for a mother abandoning her pup is due to people and dogs getting close.
What to do if you spot a marine mammal on shore:
- Call Seacoast Science Center’s 24-hour Marine Mammal Rescue hotline at 603-997-9448
- Report the exact location, if it’s alive or dead, and details about its size, coloring, and behavior
- Always maintain a safe distance (at least 150 feet; about 4 school bus lengths) from the animal to avoid undue stress on the animal.
In 2019, the Seacoast Science Center’s MMR team responded to 185 marine mammal cases (124 live and 61 deceased). These include 174 pinnipeds (seals) and 11 cetaceans (porpoises, dolphins, whales). The breakdown of species is as follows: 84 harp seals, 66 harbor seals, 22 gray seals, 2 hooded seals, 7 harbor porpoises, 3 Atlantic white sided dolphins, and 1 bottlenose dolphin.
The Seacoast Science Center Marine Mammal Rescue team must be ready and equipped to not only respond to the annual average number of cases, but also emergency situations, such as a large whale stranding or unusual mortality event, and relies heavily on community support to do so.
You can keep up to date with the MMR’s work on the SSC Marine Mammal Rescue Facebook page, learn about recent animal cases, events, and more! For more information on the Seacoast Science Center Marine Mammal Rescue program and to donate, visit www.seacoastsciencecenter.org.