As more dead seals wash up on southern Maine beaches, scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) say a sudden and unexplained seal die-off is spreading to New Hampshire and northern Massachusetts.
"We are very concerned about this," said Jennifer Goebel, NOAA Greater Atlantic Regional spokesperson.
In the last 30 days, more than 130 dead seals have been recorded in southern Maine. Goebel said in an average August, Maine typically records just 38 dead seals.
"It's unusually high," she said, and scientists are testing the seals to find out if an infectious disease like Avian flu or phocine distemper could be the cause.
According to the latest NOAA statistics, 26 dead seals were recorded in New Hampshire and Massachusetts in July, and 25 were recorded for the same area in August.
"It's significantly more than we should expect to see for those states this time of year," Goebel said. "We aren't seeing any external injuries. There have been reports of coughing, sneezing, and lung issues."
It has been an exceptionally busy week for seal rescuers with The Marine Mammals of Maine (MMoME). On Monday, 11 dead seals washed up in the Saco area. On Thursday, nine more showed up.
MMoME is also responding to stranded seals and has been rehabilitating some of them at their Harpswell triage center.
For now, NOAA is asking MMoME to stop taking in live seals, due to the risk that a potentially infectious disease might spread.
NOAA hopes to have preliminary test results for some of the deceased seals by next week.
Goebel said if anyone sees a dead seal, keep distance and report it immediately. Their hotline is 866-755-NOAA.