WHAT TO DO IF YOU FIND A DOVEKIE OR MURRE STRANDED ON THE BEACH

In recent weeks, there have been more than a few reports of Dovekies and other seabirds found on our local beaches, both alive and dead. Friend Jeff Papows has found several dead birds and has returned one live Dovekie and one Common Murre.

Jeff knew just what to do with the stranded birds, which is to return them to the water. Jodi Swenson, from Cape Ann Wildlife, recommends this is best. She shares that seabirds do not do well in rehab. If on the other hand the bird appears sick or emaciated, then please call Tufts at (508) 839-7918.

Dovekies, like many seabirds, are clumsy on land, however they do nest on land, so we know they are able to walk. Then why are they stranding? It most commonly happens to young, inexperienced birds. But stranding can also happen in great numbers to exhausted adults after large storms. This influx is known as a wreck. One of the most tragic and dramatic wrecks occurred along the East Coast in 1932, when thousands of Dovekies literally “rained” from the sky.

Photos Jeff Papows

We’d like to get an understanding of how many seabirds are washing ashore. If you have seen a Dovekie, or other species of seabird, dead or alive on the beach this winter, please write and let us know when and where. Thank you so much.

Common Murres are more crow-sized whereas Dovekies are more similar in size to an American Robin

Dovekie front view

Dovekie side view


Common Murre, winter plumage. Photo courtesy wikicommons media

GIANT SEALS SCARED THE BEEJEEZUS OUT OF ME!

While filming the tiny Dovekie as he was blithely bopping along in the inner Harbor, dip diving for breakfast and seeming to find plenty to eat, suddenly from directly beneath the Dovekie, two ginromous chocolate brown heads popped up. Almost sea serpent-like and so completely unexpected! I leapt up and totally ruined the shot, and the little Dovekie was even more startled. He didn’t fly away but ran pell mell across the water about fifteen feet before giving a furtive look back, and then submerging himself.

So there we were face to face, only about twenty feet apart. We spent a good deal of time eyeing each other, several minutes at least, both trying to figure out the other’s next move. Their eyes are so large and expressively beautiful. Down they dove and search as I might, could not spot them again.

There have been plenty of Harbor Seals seen in Gloucester Harbor, but I have never been so close to a Grey Seal, and so delighted to see not one, but two!

The following are a number of ways to tell the difference between a Harbor Seal and a Grey Seal.

Harbor Seals are smaller (5 to 6 feet) than average Grey Seals (6 feet 9 inches long to 8 feet 10 inches long). Bull Grey Seals have been recorded measuring 10 feet 10 inches long!

Harbor Seals have a concave shaped forehead, with a dog-like snout. The head of a Grey Seal is elongated, with a flatter forehead and nose.

Harbor Seal head shape left, Grey Seal head right

Harbor Seals have a heart or V-shaped nostrils. The nostrils of Grey Seals do not meet at the bottom and create more of a W-shape.

Harbor Seal heart, or V-shaped, nostrils

Grey Seal W-shaped nostrils

Grey Seals are not necessarily gray. They are also black and brown. Their spots are more irregular than the spots of a Harbor Seal.

Grey Seals and Harbor Seals are true “earless seals,” which does not mean that they cannot hear but are without external ear flaps.

Dovekie Gloucester Harbor

A GHOULISH SCENE AND CANNIBALISM IN SEALS

With their big brown winsome eyes, we tend to think seals are sweet and adorable. But just as there are abnormal behaviors in people, so too do other species of mammals possess aberrant traits.

Yesterday morning while heading down to take a walk on the beach I was wondering if anything interesting had washed ashore with the previous day’s king tide. At that very moment I looked over the shoreline and saw what appeared to be a small seal in the seaweed. I approached cautiously from behind because from a distance it appeared as though it was resting.

We’ve all seen seals washed ashore but I have never seen one with the skin peeled away, down to the very muscle, and with the layer of blubber so clearly defined. The seal was small and slender–from tip to tail about two and a half feet–if that.

The area all around the seal was undisturbed, which led me to believe it was not a coyote. The face and neck skin were so cleanly removed, it wasn’t a boat propellor, but it had to have happened in the water. What kind of creature would skin a seal?

Not only do Grey Seals eat Harbor Seals and Harbor Porpoises, but bull Grey Seals have been documented eating young of their own kind. It may be more common than previously thought. After reading the description of how an adult Grey Seal drowned, and then ate a pup, I suspect there is the possibility that this young seal was killed by a Grey Seal.

Have any of our readers ever seen a skinned seal and if yes, please tell us what you may, or may not, know. Thank you.

The following is footage of a male Grey Seal eating a Grey Seal pup, with brackets placed around the link so that you can chose to not to see this disturbing video if you do not care to. [https://youtu.be/SmklASZUrZ8]

Corkscrew Seals: Grey Seal (Halichoerus grypus) Infanticide and Cannibalism May Indicate the Cause of Spiral Lacerations in Seals

Abstract

Large numbers of dead seals with characteristic spiral lesions have been washing ashore around the North Atlantic over the past two decades. Interactions with ship propellers and shark predation have been suggested as the likely causal mechanisms. However, new evidence points towards a more likely candidate: grey seal predation. An adult male grey seal was observed and recorded catching, killing and eating five weaned grey seal pups over a period of one week on the Isle of May, Scotland. A further 9 carcasses found in the same area exhibited similar injuries. Post mortem analysis of lesions indicated the wound characteristics were similar to each other and in 12 of the 14 carcasses analysed, were indistinguishable from carcasses previously attributed to propeller interaction. We therefore propose that most of the seal carcasses displaying spiral lacerations in the UK are caused by grey seal predation. Cases in other locations should be re-evaluated using the scoring system presented here to identify whether grey seal predation is a major cause of mortality in phocid seals.

Read the full paper here.

POOR LITTLE BABY SEAL AT NILES BEACH

The little seal pup was seen today washed ashore at Niles Beach. He couldn’t have been more than three feet in length. From Maine to Massachusetts, more than six hundred dead or dying Gray and Harbor Seals have been reported this summer.

Two Humpback Whales washed ashore on Massachusetts beaches in a single day, one on Little Brewster Island in Boston Harbor and one on Revere Beach. The Revere Beach Humpback is the same whale that was spotted off Gloucester several weeks ago. Last week, two dead Minke Whales were found floating in the waters off Gloucester and Sea Bright, New Jersey. Another Minke Whale washed ashore in Rye, New Hampshire earlier this past week.

Seal Pup at Niles Beach

Read more about why the seals are dying here.

Two dead humpback whales wash up in Revere and near Boston Light

2016-2018 Humpback Whale Unusual Mortality Event along the Atlantic Coast

Watch for Gray Seal Pups on the Shoreline

unnamed-6It’s Gray Seal Pupping Season

From December through February, gray seals give birth on islands and shoreline areas in Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts. It’s not uncommon to see a mother and pup or a lone pup on a beach. Gray seal pups are born with a white, fluffy coat, known as lanugo, and nurse from the mother for approximately 16 to 17 days.
“A mother seal may be off feeding when someone comes across a seal pup on the beach,” says Mendy Garron, marine mammal stranding program coordinator for NOAA Fisheries Greater Atlantic Region. “The best thing you can do is keep people and pets away from the seal pup, so the mother has a chance to return.”

Gray seal pups are very vocal, and can sound like a baby crying, but this is normal behavior and doesn’t necessarily mean that the pup is in distress. This vocalization helps the mother find the pup when she returns from foraging.
NOAA Fisheries reminds members of the public to respect wildlife by maintaining a safe distance of at least 150 feet from seals.
Seal pups are often higher up on the beach, near the high tide line or even in the dunes, for protection while the mother is away. Sometimes pups do wander far from the beach, ending up in unusual places. If you suspect an animal may be in trouble, please take the following actions:
  • Call your local Marine Mammal Stranding Network Member or the NOAA Fisheries Greater Atlantic Regional 24-hour hotline 866-755-NOAA (6622).
  • Always maintain a safe distance, at least 150 feet, from the animal to avoid injury to yourself or to the animal.
  • Do not touch the seal! They are wild animals. They will bite, and can transmit disease.
  • Keep your pets on leashes, and remove them from the area. Pets can further stress seals, provoking defensive behaviors. Seals can attack pets if they feel threatened, and they can transmit diseases to pets.
  • Never feed seals. This can make the animal sick or dependent on people for food.
  • Do not move or push the animal back into the water. Seals need time to rest and regulate their body temperatures, which is why they “haul out” on land.
  • If you see someone harassing a marine mammal, please contact our Office of Law Enforcement at 800-853-1964.
NOAA Fisheries is the federal agency responsible for monitoring marine mammal populations in the United States. In this region, NOAA Fisheries relies on a team of dedicated, trained personnel from Maine to Virginia to assist the agency in carrying out its mission.Marine Mammal Stranding Network has been in existence for several decades and is comprised of organizations from the wildlife rescue community, academic institutions, zoo/aquarium facilities, and federal state or local government agencies. The Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program (MMHSRP) was officially formalized in 1992 under the Marine Protection Act of 1972 after numerous mass strandings and unusual mortality events occurred around the country.
Get more information on NOAA Fisheries Greater Atlantic Region’s Stranding Program (covering the coastlines of Maine to Virginia).
Find out about our gray seal research on Muskeget and Monomoy Islands.