Harbor Seal Pupping Season Expected to Begin this Month

 

If you see a seal or other marine mammal on the beach, call the Seacoast Science Center Marine Mammal Rescue hotline at 603-997-9448

 

Harbor seals bear their young from late April through June. The majority of the pups in the region are born in Maine, however there is some pupping that occurs south of Maine as well. 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 vitally important to keep back 150 feet and call Seacoast Science Center’s Marine Mammal Rescue (MMR) hotline at 603-997-9448 (from Essex, MA to the Maine border).

“Harbor seal pups are only with their mothers for 21-28 days. It is extremely critical that the bond and important life-learning processes that are happening between a mother seal and her pup during this time remain uninterrupted.” said Ashley Stokes, Director of Marine Mammal Rescue. “Newborn pups are not great swimmers and tire quickly, so the mother will leave her pup on the beach at times, while she is off feeding. Giving that pup the space it deserves, will ensure that the mother will return to care for it. If the pup is approached or the mother sees danger nearby, that will lead to the pup becoming abandoned.”

Seals are semi-aquatic, meaning that it is normal for them to spend time on shore. However, there are times when a marine mammal comes onto shore because it is sick, injured, or abandoned. “Once we receive a report of an animal, we immediately dispatch a team member to assess the animal. Signs and a safety perimeter are established while a live animal is being monitored to determine whether intervention is necessary.” said Stokes.

“We gather morphometric data and photos on all animals, live and dead, which are input into a federally managed national database. Dead animals of scientific value are transported to the lab for a full post mortem examination to look into what may have caused the death of the animal, and monitor health trends. This is why it is important that beachgoers call our hotline as soon as an animal is spotted.” 

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.

In 2021, the Center’s MMR team responded to 136 marine mammal cases (70 live and 66 deceased). These include 126 pinnipeds (seals) and 10 cetaceans (porpoises, dolphins, whales). The breakdown of species is as follows: 90 harbor seals, 22 gray seals, 12 harp seals, 2 unknown seal species, 4 harbor porpoises, 3 common dolphins, 2 minke whales, and 1 unknown cetacean species.

Seacoast Science Center’s Marine Mammal Rescue team must be ready and equipped to not only respond to the expected average number of cases annually, but also to 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 work of the MMR team on the SSC Marine Mammal Rescue Facebook page, learn about recent animal cases, events, and more! For more information on Seacoast Science Center’s Marine Mammal Rescue program and to donate, visit www.seacoastsciencecenter.org.

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