MERR sees busy month with seals, other strandings

Personnel at the Marine Education Research & Rehabilitation (MERR) Institute have been busy lately, wrapping up what they said was a very busy month of February.

On Saturday morning, March 2, the group responded to a 3.5-foot yearling harp seal that was on the shore in Dewey Beach. The seal remained on the beach throughout the weekend, with volunteers standing guard, informing the public and helping all keep the required 150-foot distance from the animal.

After consulting with NOAA, representatives said, MERR determined that best treatment was to hydrate the seal, as it was observed to be slightly underweight. The seal was taken to MERR veterinarian Dr. Diane Holm, who named the seal Haven. Along with the staff at the Haven Lake Animal Hospital and the MERR response team, Holm provided hydration therapy to the seal, and it was released on a quiet beach on Monday afternoon, with hopes of it returning to the water.

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

Also on Saturday, March, 2, volunteers responded to a previously monitored yearling harp seal on Conquest Road. The seal had been tagged in New Jersey and first appeared on Feb. 26, but went back into the water the following day. It again appeared on Key Box Road on Feb. 28.

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

The same seal stranded again on March 2, but that time was deceased, with evidence of a large shark-bite wound. Responders brought the seal back the MERR facility for necropsy at a later date to determine any additional contributing causes.

On Sunday, March 3, MERR responded to a deceased adult common dolphin in Dewey Beach, but no obvious cause of death could be determined at the initial observation, they said.

Busy season

“We have responded to 43 stranding calls since the end of January,” Thurman said. “We are seeing higher-than-usual numbers.”

She added that she and MERR are appreciative of the calls they receive from the public to report strandings, and for the cooperation from the public while monitoring them.

“We are very thankful to everyone for helping to keep a safe distance from the seal, and for cooperating with the volunteers when they explain this requirement.”

According to requirements from the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (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, Thurman said.

“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,” 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.

The Marine Education, Research & Rehabilitation Institute Inc. is a 501(c)(3) non-profit stranding response and rehabilitation organization dedicated to the conservation of marine mammals and sea turtles. MERR is authorized by the National Marine Fisheries Service and the State of Delaware to be the official stranding responders for the marine mammals and sea turtles of Delaware.