BAR HARBOR — ‘Tis the season for spotting harbor seal pups on Mount Desert Island beaches and rocks. Rosemary Seton of the Allied Whale marine mammal program at College of the Atlantic said it’s important for bystanders not to touch, move or try to feed them.
“If you are walking along the shore and find a baby harbor seal on its own, what should you do? Your first thought may be that the seal is in distress because it is out of water and alone. You may hear it cry or vocalize. The pup may approach and snuggle up to you and perhaps even begin suckling on your shoe. A natural response is to assist the animal. However, this is the life of a harbor seal pup – being left high and dry for periods of time with no mom in sight.”
It’s necessary for all seals, juveniles included, to spend some time hauled out of the water, she said. “They are babies; they need rest like all infants. Do not pour seawater on the pup. They do not need to be wet. It may be sorely tempting, but do not try to feed the animal, for at this age, pups are still nursing. Mom’s milk is better, and indeed, is different in nature from the milk we drink, so refrain from playing surrogate mother. Keep in mind, it is illegal to touch, harass or harm any marine mammal in the United States.”
Harbor seal mothers often leave their pups for hours at a time in order to forage for food. They may even leave their pups on the same beach day after day while periodically coming back to feed it. Most of the time, the seal pup is healthy and simply awaiting its mother’s return. It is best to leave the pup alone, for the mother will not return if she detects the presence of humans. Close presence of humans can significantly stress the animal, potentially causing internal bodily harm.
“From May to early July, there are cases in which a number of harbor seal pups are truly abandoned by their mothers,” Seton said. “The mother may be ill and unable to care for her pup, the mom dies, or perhaps the pair is separated. In these cases, the pup will indeed need human assistance given appropriately by a trained and authorized individual.”
To report a stranding or for more information, call Allied Whale at 288-5644 (during regular business hours) or the stranding cell-phone at 266-1326 (during the weekends and holidays). Allied Whale is a member of the Greater Atlantic Regional Stranding Network and is authorized by the National Marine Fisheries Service to respond to all marine mammal strandings. All marine mammals are federally protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
Allied Whale plans a stranding workshop for Saturday, May 30, from 1-5 p.m. in the COA lecture hall.