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Maine is seeing three times the normal rate of dead seal strandings

Officials say the deaths are linked to avian flu.

Maine is seeing an increase in the number of dead seals stranding on the state’s shoreline, a phenomenon officials say is linked to avian flu. 

Marine Mammals of Maine, a nonprofit that responds to strandings of mammals and sea turtles in midcoast and southern Maine in partnership with NOAA Fisheries, began seeing the uptick in the number of seals stranding — most dead — on the coast. According to NOAA Fisheries, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s National Veterinary Services Laboratories confirmed on July 1 that samples from four of the strandings tested positive for Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) H5N1. The seals either had recently died or required euthanasia. 

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“The current rate of dead seal strandings in this area is approximately three times the normal rate for this time of the year,” the federal agency said in a statement. 

As of July 2, there have been a total of 57 seal strandings reported by Marine Mammals of Maine, with the most (30) occurring in Cumberland County.

Seal strandings in Maine by county as of July 2, 2022.
– Marine Mammals of Maine

In response to the uptick in deaths, NOAA Fisheries is coordinating with Marine Mammals of Maine and Atlantic Marine Conservation Society, as well as state and federal partners. The positive cases are being reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as the World Organization for Animal Health.

NOAA is urging anyone who sees a sick, injured, or dead seal in Maine to call the Maine Marine Animal Reporting Hotline at 800-532-9551. 

Any seal strandings that occur south of Vacationland should be reported to the NOAA Fisheries Stranding Hotline at 866-755-6622.

The last time Maine saw an unusually high number of seal deaths was in 2018. The cause of that “die off” was determined to be phocine distemper virus.

Seals aren’t the only ocean creatures that are washing up dead on the New England coastline related to avian flu this year.

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Officials on Martha’s Vineyard last month reported “hundreds” of dead cormorants on the island. Massachusetts environmental and health officials have since confirmed that HPAI is behind the deaths of cormorants, seagulls, ducks, and terns, among other birds along the coastline. 

“Massachusetts has seen a substantial uptick in reports of dead and dying seabirds, including eiders, cormorants, and gulls,” Andrew Vitz, MassWildlife state ornithologist, said in a June 22 statement. “We are asking for the public’s help in reporting observations of sick shorebirds along the coastline. Prompt reporting will expedite testing and diagnosis in cooperation with our state and federal partners who have been monitoring HPAI for several years.”

Last week, two swans on the Esplanade in Boston were euthanized when they displayed symptoms of avian flu. Massachusetts officials are urging the public to report any sightings of sick, injured, or dying wild birds to the state. 

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