HARPSWELL — When a marine mammal rehabilitation center at the University of New England in Biddeford closed two years ago, those who worked with stranded or injured seals suddenly had to transport the animals to Massachusetts or Connecticut. A new facility that opened this spring will ease that burden.
Marine Mammals of Maine (MMoME) announced the opening of a new short-term holding facility for seals, the first of its kind on the East Coast. An opening ceremony was held at the new facility Sunday.
The facility has just been authorized by NOAA’s Regional Marine Mammal Stranding Response Program to collect and stabilize stranded seals for up to 96 hours before transporting them to other authorized long-term rehabilitation facilities located in Massachusetts and Connecticut.
“This new facility will allow us to give stranded seals immediate care and stabilize them before they are subjected to the stress of an extended transport,” said Lynda Doughty, MMoME executive director.
Gray and harbor seal populations, once on the brink of extinction in Maine, have rebounded since the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 increased protections for them. Gray and harbor seals live along Maine’s coast year round, while Arctic harp and hooded seals frequent Maine waters in the winter months.
Increasing populations have placed additional demands on stranding response programs, especially in the spring months of harbor seal pupping season. The new facility is outfitted with a number of seal holding tanks, critical care units and an on-site laboratory, that will be supported by staff, an attending veterinarian, seasonal interns and volunteers.
“Having a triage facility in mid-coast Maine will benefit our animals that are coming from great distances in Downeast Maine and being brought to a long-term rehab facility in either Massachusetts or Connecticut,” said Rosemary Seton. She’s the stranding response program coordinator at the College of the Atlantic’s Allied Whale lab in Bar Harbor. “Our animals will benefit from a rest from transport, which is very stressful on the animal. They can receive additional fluids and nourishment as needed and be re-assessed. Marine Mammals of Maine have worked so tenaciously hard to make this facility and this dream a reality.”
Harbor seals give birth to pups off the coast of Maine beginning in May.
“Harbor seal pups are very cute, but please remember they are wild animals and should be viewed from a safe distance of at least 150 feet,” a representative of the group said. “If you see a seal on the beach, do not touch or attempt to feed it. It is normal for a mother to leave her pup on the beach while she goes in search of food, sometimes for as long as 24 hours.”