From May to early July, harbor seals can be found on area beaches, docks and rocks. Despite their cries, it is best not to approach harbor seals as their mothers are out foraging for food. PHOTO COURTESY OF COLLEGE OF THE ATLANTIC

Harbor seal pup season underway

BAR HARBOR — Anyone walking along the shore and finding a baby harbor seal on its own or hanging out with another pup is urged to keep their distance.

“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,” a spokesman for College of the Atlantic’s Allied Whale said.

“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, and there are several things to keep in mind when coming across a harbor seal.”

Seals are semi-aquatic, meaning that while they spend a good deal of their lives in the ocean, it is necessary and critical to spend portions of time hauled out of water on beaches, docks, even discarded tires, or perched on uncomfortable-looking rocks.

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 pups are healthy and simply awaiting their mother’s return despite their cries. These vocalizations are important for reuniting the mother and pup, as the mother identifies her pup by its plaintive, hooting calls.

It is best to leave the pup alone, for the mother will not return if she detects the presence of humans. Further, a close human presence 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. The mother may be ill and unable to care for her pup, the mother dies, or perhaps the pair gets separated. In these cases, the pup will need human assistance, given appropriately by a trained and authorized individual.

“If you find a seal pup, do not touch it for your own safety as well as the animal’s well-being. Seals can carry infectious diseases that can be transmitted to humans and also to pets, making them ill,” a spokesman said.

“Do not remove it from the beach. The pup may be resting and awaiting its mom’s return. Do not put the pup back in the ocean. They are babies; they need rest, like all infants.”

Do not pour seawater on the pup. They do not need to be wet. Do not try to feed the animal, for, at this age, pups are still nursing. Mom’s milk is better and is different in nature from the milk we drink, so refrain from playing surrogate mother. Seals are even lactose intolerant.

It is illegal to touch, harass or harm any marine mammal in the United States.

“If you feel it needs assistance, or if you simply want more information, call Allied Whale, College of the Atlantic’s marine mammal research lab at 288-5644, or the stranding cell phone at 266-1326,” the spokesman said. The Maine Marine Mammal Reporting Hotline is another resource and can be reached at 1-800-532-9551.


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