Sep 17, 2015 5:27 PM

NH1 News Investigates Stranded Seals: Harbor seal strandings on NH Seacoast more than double

BOURNE, MASS. - August and September have proven dangerous for New Hampshire’s harbor seals. There has been twice the number of seals stranding this year, as last year, according to Ashley Stokes, Coordinator for the Marine Mammal Rescue Center in Rye.

Nearly 100 harbor seals have stranded along New Hampshire’s seacoast this year. Many were already dead, and necropsies are being performed to determine how they died. Experts fear a return of the bird flu that killed dozens of local seals in 2011. So far, it appears that is not the case, but necropsy results aren’t yet completed.

During one 48 hour period at the end of August, rescue workers found 13 dead harbor seals on a short stretch of beach from Hampton to Rye. They became very concerned and are still looking for answers as to what caused so many seal deaths in such a concentrated area.

Kathy Zagzebski of the National Marine Life Center in Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts says there are many different reasons for seals dying.

“We see illness, injury, and human interaction like entanglement,” said Zagzebski. She warns ocean pollution like plastics also kill marine mammals. Even strong storms can pull pups away from their mothers, leaving them stranded on the beach. Rescuers say people shouldn’t approach seals they see on the beach. Instead they should call the Marine mammal Rescue Team Hotline at 603-997-9448, so experts can determine whether the seals need to be picked up and treated, or simply left alone.

“Mom will often drop her pup off at the beach while she’ll go and forage for food and return to nurse,” said Stokes. During that time, well-intentioned beach goers sometimes approach the pup seal and move it or disturb it. That will scare the mother seal away and she’ll often end up abandoning her little one who is still nursing and unable to eat fish yet.

That’s when rescuers step in from the Seacoast Science Center, and pick the seal up and transport them to the National Marine Life Center in Buzzards Bay, MA for medical attention and rehabilitation. The cost is about $4000 to save one animal. This year, only one rescued seal has survived, and, within days, they plan to release her back into the ocean at Wallis Sands Beach. Named Chammie, she’ll become the first rescued and rehabilitated seal to be released back into the wild in New Hampshire.


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