Exeter Seal Completes Rehabilitation, Returns to Sea

Posted on February 9, 2023

Small harbor seal shown hauled out of the water on a grassy riverbankExeter, NH had an unusual, but not entirely out of the ordinary visitor in November of 2022: a harbor seal in the Squamscott River. This seal, however, was in need of help. Seacoast Science Center’s (SSC) Marine Mammal Rescue (MMR) Team stepped up to respond, rescuing the animal and transporting her to our partners at National Marine Life Center in Bourne, MA for rehabilitation. After two months of care, on January 30, 2023, Sam was ready to be released back into sea, and our team was there once again, this time to see her off.

Brown harbor seal looks to the right as it emerges from a crate near the ocean.“Sam got straight to business as soon as that kennel opened. She peered out to check that the coast was clear and off she went, scooting right down the beach until she hit the water. She dunked her head in, gave one look back, and just like that she was gone,” said Brian Yurasits, Marine Mammal Rescue Community Outreach Manager.

Sam’s visit to the Squamscott River helped us learn more about her species’ population here in the Northwest Atlantic, and provided an opportunity for us to educate local communities about New England’s local marine mammal species. Upon her release, she was surrounded by the people who rescued and cared for her throughout her journey. It was a special moment to savor, but there is always more work to be done in advancing the science and conservation of marine mammals.

Learn more about SSC’s MMR Program here

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To report any stranded seal, whale, dolphin, or porpoise (live or dead) from NH south to Essex, MA, please call our rescue hotline at: (603) 997-9448.

About Sam Eagle

Brown harbor seal lies on its back on an orange heating mat, showing a wound on its upper chest.
Photo courtesy of National Marine Life Center

Sam Eagle is a young female harbor seal who made an impressive journey inland from the Gulf of Maine. Sam ventured through the swift current of the Piscataqua River and tidal waters of Great Bay, to her ultimate destination approximately 6 miles up the Squamscott River. Calls started pouring in to the Seacoast Science Center Marine Mammal Rescue Hotline from community members who spotted the seal in the river, seen from Swasey Parkway.

Commonly referred to as a “weanling,” Sam was less than 1 year old and no longer dependent on her mother. She was nearly 3 feet long at the time of response. Sam was suffering from infected wounds on her abdomen, and it was later discovered that she was also suffering from pneumonia, an oral abscess, and a parasitic infection. After a few days of monitoring Sam, SSC’s MMR Team decided to intervene by removing her from the shoreline for a full examination and providing initial triage care before transporting to rehabilitation.

It’s not unusual to see a harbor seal in environments where saltwater and freshwater mix, such as estuaries and tidal rivers. Especially during the late fall and winter months when there is significantly less boat traffic in these nearshore places.

A story behind the name
While monitoring Sam in the Squamscott River, MMR volunteer Brinn witnessed Sam catch a fish to eat, when moments later a bald eagle attempted to steal her food! Sam managed to avoid the eagle and finished her lunch. It was a truly unique wildlife interaction to experience while responding to a marine mammal!

Sam Eagle received her name in reference to National Marine Life Center’s 2022 naming theme: Muppets.

The power of partnerships
SSC’s Marine Mammal Rescue program is part of the Greater Atlantic Marine Mammal Stranding Network, working collaboratively with our partner organizations to successfully respond to stranded marine mammals in New England. We work closely with organizations such as the National Marine Life Center to advance science and conservation efforts, and Sam Eagle’s response is a great example of collaboration in action.

SSC responded to reports of the stranded seal, conducted an initial health assessment, and provided triage care for the animal. Our partners at National Marine Life Center then provided longer-term care to effectively treat Sam’s serious injuries and illnesses. From the community members we depend on to report sightings of marine mammals in need, to our staff and team of trained volunteers, to our partners who provide life-saving rehabilitative care, it truly takes a village to advance our important wildlife conservation work.

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