Workshop gathers seal enthusiasts

BAR HARBOR — When a seal or other marine mammal is discovered stranded, injured or dead on the coast of Maine between Rockland and the Canadian Border, Allied Whale will soon be on the scene.

The group, a research lab at College of the Atlantic, staffs a stranding response hotline and trains volunteers to assist with response, rehabilitation and necropsy work.

Allied Whale staff and volunteers gathered Sunday afternoon, along with students and professors from COA, the University of Maine at Machias and Unity College, for an annual stranding workshop on the COA campus.

“It was standing room only,” stranding response program Coordinator Rosemary Seton said.

The program included identification of seal species, safety for stranding responders and law and policy surrounding marine mammals.

“It’s good to give everyone a basic primer” on the Marine Mammal Protection Act, even if it’s familiar to many in the group, Seton said. Allied Whale is under authorization to handle the animals dead or alive.

When staff receive a call alerting them to a stranding, Seton often consults the volunteer list to see who might be nearby who could respond to gather more information or take photos.

“One thing I love to do is involve the local citizenry,” she said. “I love making them part of the solution.”

If no volunteers are available nearby, she’ll often ask the person who called to report a stranding if they’d like to help monitor the animal.

“Most just love doing that,” she said. “When the seal goes back into the water, if the seal’s healthy, they’re kind of bummed.”

A consulting veterinarian for the group, Dr. Carissa Bielamowicz, discussed diseases and safety issues for responders. Zoonotic disease, meaning illness transmitted from humans to animals or vice versa, is a concern. Responders are trained to use gloves and other protective equipment.

At the end of the workshop Seton, gave a slide show about a recent trip with Allied Whale colleagues to South Georgia Island, near the Antarctic Peninsula off the tip of South America. They were invited experts and travelled on a small cruise ship.

“You can’t take a poor picture of king penguins,” she joked.

The group watched some video from a live webcam on Seal Island in Penobscot Bay, where pupping season for gray seals is underway, to discuss seal behavior.

“It sounds odd to be born in winter, but they are,” Seton said. “It’s kind of fun to watch and find out how they’re doing.”

Harbor seal pupping season begins in May.

The Blue Door restaurant on Cottage Street, owned by Bobbie Lynn Hutchins, hosted a benefit dinner for Allied Whale following the workshop.

Liz Graves

Liz Graves

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Former Islander reporter and editor Liz Graves grew up in California and came to Maine as a schooner sailor.

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