Marine Mammal Reporting
It Is illegal Under the Marine Mammal Protection Act to Disturb or Harass Seals and Other Marine Mammals
The Marine Mammal Protection Act applies to abandoned or stranded seals, which are often found on our Maine shoreline. While it is understandable to want to help animals in distress, untrained people should not attempt to rescue stranded or entangled marine mammals. Not only is it illegal, but it is also potentially dangerous – seals can bite if they feel threatened, and those bites can transmit serious infections and may carry diseases that put people at risk.
What To Do If You Find A Stranded Marine Mammal
- Do not disturb or attempt to drive the animal back into the water, stay back at least 50 feet, and prevent further harm to the animal by restraining pets and keeping other people from approaching it.
- Note the location, time, and apparent condition of the animal.
- Contact the nearest stranding network specialist immediately. In Midcoast and Downeast Maine, the contact is Allied Whale at (207) 288-5644.
- Shaw Institute’s Blue Hill Research Center is also designated as a stranding response location, and staff will respond to ocean animals in distress or needing rescue. Necropsies are performed at Allied Whale in the event of death and tissue samples are added to the Institute’s tissue bank for ongoing research.
What To Do If You Find A Dead Marine Mammal
The same instructions apply for dead marine mammals that are washed ashore. It is dangerous to handle or allow any pets to disturb the carcass due to bacteria and diseases that have proven harmful. Follow the same process used in strandings. Report the location of your find to Allied Whale or Shaw Institute as quickly as you can.
Why Might Seals End Up Stranded In This Area?
The majority of marine mammal strandings along the Maine coast are seal pups, and mortality can be as high as 50-60% annually. But unexplained “mortality events” occur all too regularly, claiming the lives of hundreds of animals, including dolphins or harbor porpoises.
From April to July, female harbor seals give birth to their pups all along the Maine coast, especially in Blue Hill and Penobscot Bays where 50% of the population arrives from southern areas every spring—making this a critical pupping habitat for the entire Northeast population of harbor seals. The nursing period for harbor seals is quite short—four to six weeks—and it is a vulnerable time.
Seals use haul-out locations to rest, give birth, molt and nurse pups. During these first weeks of life, newborn seal pups can easily become separated from their mothers by wave surges, illness, predators, or disturbance by people, especially boaters—including kayaks and canoes—that can “flush” the pups from haul-out ledges into the water.
The Shaw Institute works closely with Allied Whale, a licensed marine mammal research group located at College of the Atlantic (COA) in Bar Harbor. A member of the National Marine Fisheries Service Northeast Region Stranding Network, Allied Whale responds to seals stranded in the Blue Hill Bay area and as far south as Rockland.
As a first-responder organization under COA’s licensing, the Institute responds to calls about distressed or injured seals that strand on beaches in the area. With more than 3,500 marine mammal strandings in the U.S. each year, this work is crucial.
Not All Marine Mammals Are Stranded
Marine mammals beach themselves for many reasons. To rest. To get warm. Seal mothers will often leave their pup on shore while they go off and forage. The mother is typically not gone more than 24 hours but concerned citizens often confuse these tiny pups for animals in distress. Usually this is not the case.
The worst thing you can do is try to “help” a marine mammal. Not only do they carry very dangerous diseases for humans and pets, but adults will abandon pups that have been handled by humans. Every marine mammal that gets reported is monitored by the Allied Whale Network and animals that need assistance are taken to the nearest rehabilitation center.