Harp seals mysteriously migrating down East Coast

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March 21, 2011, 4:48 pm
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(NECN: Marnie MacLean) - Marine biologists say they are seeing an unusual trend well over 100 adult harp seal sightings from Maine all the way to North Carolina.
                       
The animals are native to Canada and Greenland and don't usually travel so far south.
                    
Less than 24 hours ago, a sad-looking harp seal was brought to the marine animal rehabilitation center in Biddeford, Maine.
                   
He is sick and weak and far from his native habitat in Canada.

"Most animals that are feeling this crummy have a hard time wanting to accept food but food is one of the things that will make him feel better."

He is one of three adult harp seals now going through rehab at the center, which is unusual. Normally, the center sees juvenile harp seals during the winter, but this year, adult harp seal sightings are way up on the Northeast coast... 40 so far in Maine, which is double the number of last year.

"In addition to the unusual number of adult seal sightings, where they are found one on a golf course in Maine, this one found in the woods in South Thomaston."

"It sort of raises a red flag at any time patterns in nature can change," said Shannon Prendiville.

While scientists can't point to an exact reason for the change, some speculate that a decrease in ice in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence, where harp seals live could explain the change in migration patterns.

"If you decrease that ice they are going to go in different directions to haul up and give birth," said Charles Tilburg.

Tilburg believes the seals are a visible sign of the larger problem of climate change, and while there have been variations in ice and temperatures before it's not been at this scale.

"It's the only earth, we've never done this before..don't know what's going to happen."

For the animal care specialists, the immediate challenge is finding enough space for the seals, nursing them back to health and hoping when they leave, they head north.

Tags: maine, Biddeford, Marnie MacLean, biologists, harp seals
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