Friday, April 18, 2008

Just Taking a Break

I spotted this critter on Mackworth Island a couple of weeks ago, apparently just taking a break on its way to the Arctic. I found out from Lynda Doughty at the Department of Marine Resources, the state's stranding coordinator, that the critter was a harp seal. I and other concerned visitors to the island that day, called the Marine Animal Reporting Hotline, because the seal seemed to be tired and possibly ill. We were also concerned that the animal was alone without a worry about the presence of humans in its very close proximity. After volunteers made an assessment of the seal's health, Lynda called and reassured me that all was well. Harp seals make their way to the Arctic each year to their breeding and whelping grounds in Newfoundland, the White Sea, and the Greenland Sea. They give birth on sea ice to soft, fluffy, white pups that have been brutally hunted by humans for their pelts. Because of human activity, the species is now classified as threated and I presume that with the continued loss of sea ice due to global warming, their status will only worsen. Maine is probably their most southern boundary, and once rare to our waters, sightings of harp seals have been increasing. Harp seals feed on crustaceans and fish and can stay underwater for fifteen minutes! I grew up in a lobstering family in Rockport, Maine, the home of the famous Andre and even now upon encountering seals in our Maine waters I am thrilled, because this close relative of ours reminds me of our of connection to the sea. If humans continue to treat our oceans with disregard, then we are at risk of losing a part of ourselves as well. If you happen to stumble upon a marine animal anywhere in Maine that appears to be ill or on need of help, the Marine Animal Reporting Hotline is 1(800)-523-9551. Good luck to our harp seal friend in finding a mate and starting a family this Spring!

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