‘Busy season’ for strandings says MERR Institute

A stranded seal was spotted near Dewey Beach on Saturday. The Marine Education
Research and Rehabilitation (MERR) Institute says it has responded to 43 stranding
reports on Delaware shores since the end of January. (Submitted photo)

DOVER — According to the Marine Education Research and Rehabilitation (MERR) Institute, their volunteers have responded to 43 stranding reports on Delaware shores since the end of January — most recently, a seal needing treatment, a dead seal and a dead “common dolphin” last weekend.

“We are seeing higher than usual numbers,” MERR’s director Suzanne Thurman, said in a statement.

Last Saturday morning volunteers responded to a 3 1/2-foot yearling harp seal that was on the shores in Dewey Beach, the agency said. The seal remained on the beach throughout the weekend, with volunteers monitoring it and informing the public on the required 150-foot distance they must keep from the animal.

After consulting with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, MERR sought treatment for the seal who appeared slightly underweight and dehydrated. The seal was taken to MERR veterinarian Dr. Diane Holm. After receiving treatment it was released on beach on Monday afternoon.

“The seal did very well with its hydration procedures,” Ms. Thurman said. “We are hoping she will be healthy enough to return to the water on her own.”

Also on Saturday, volunteers responded to a previously monitored yearling harp seal on Conquest Road south of Dewey Beach. The seal was originally tagged in New Jersey and first appeared on Feb. 26, but went back into the water the following day.

No obvious cause of death could be determined during the initial observation of a common
dolphin discovered near Dewey Beach on Sunday. (Submitted photo)

“We were orchestrating a potential rescue, but it went back into the water,” Ms. Thurman said.

However, when the seal reappeared on Saturday, it was dead with evidence of a large shark bite wound. Responders brought the seal back to MERR’s facility for necropsy at a later date to determine any additional contributing causes.

Last Sunday, a dead adult common dolphin was found on Dewey Beach as well, but no obvious cause of death could be determined at the initial observation, said the agency.

Busy season

“We have responded to 43 stranding calls since the end of January,” Ms. Thurman said. “We are very thankful to everyone for helping to keep a safe distance from the seals, and for cooperating with the volunteers when they explain this requirement.”

According to requirements from NOAA, under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, people must maintain a minimum of 150 feet from a resting or stranded marine mammal. Approaching a seal could frighten the animal, or incite it to bite if they feel threatened. Additionally, seals are mammals and have the potential to transmit disease to humans and pets, so it is important to keep dogs on a leash at all times near these animals.

“It is natural behavior for a seal to come out of the water to rest, and doesn’t necessarily mean that the seal is ill or injured,” Ms. Thurman said. “MERR will conduct an assessment to make the best determination of the seal’s condition, and whether it needs veterinary intervention.”

To report a stranding, call (302) 228-5029.

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