On the morning of March 23, Tim Tibbetts had plans to haul out and demolish the float at his home on Christmas Cove, Southport Island. While he was waiting for his friend Gerry Gamage to show up, he decided to take a walk down to the float. As the float, which was slanted downward, came into view, Tim knew it would be a while before they got to all that hauling out and demolishing.
“I just happened to go down there (to the float),” Tibbetts said. “I got three to four feet from the (harbor) seal, and I could see the gill net wrapped around his neck and a back flipper. He didn't try to jump back in the water; I don't know if he could swim as he was and maybe the salt in the water made his wound burn.”
Tibbetts went back up to the house and told his wife, Kathy, about the seal he estimated was around 30 pounds.
“We knew we had to call somebody,” Kathy said. “So I called 9-1-1. I told the operator about the seal and what we needed. She told me 'this number is for emergencies' and I told her that little guy needed help and if he wasn't an emergency I didn't know what was. She was quiet for a few seconds after that.”
The operator gave Kathy the number for the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in Massachusetts. NOAA then contacted Marine Mammals of Maine (MMoME), that in turn contacted volunteer responder Lisa Perry in Boothbay Harbor. Perry took on this role back in 2006 with the former Strandings Program.
“It wasn't a safe situation,” Perry said of the scene. “He (the seal) was out at the end of a pier that was in bad condition and in the process of being removed. Tim and Gerry went out to the end of the dock with a rope and to try and pull him closer to shore. (The seal) fell into the water briefly. They pulled him up onto the dock and I put a blanket over him and we managed to get him into the travel crate.”
“Poor soul, he didn't seem to want to go back in the salt water,” Gamage said, “but, he didn't really like us that near to him. We tried to use a blanket before the rope, but the wind wasn't making that easy. That's why we used the rope.”
“We lifted him up and I thought geez, he's a lot more than 30 pounds! He looked so small on the float.”
The seal wasn't happy about any of this. Perry said he hissed and growled the whole time. As Perry recalled, “He was quite the lively one! You would never have known he was injured.”
Perry said the seal wasn't quite 1 year old and weighed around 60 pounds.
She drove the seal as far as Brunswick where she met Assisting Stranding Coordinator Dominique Walk. Walk transported the seal to the triage center in Harpswell where his wounds were treated and where he would stay until his condition was stabilized. In addition to its outward injuries, the harbor seal had a severe respiratory infection. He remained in Harpswell until Friday when he was transferred to the clinic at Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut dedicated to caring for injured harbor and gray seals.
Kathy and Tim have heard the seal's health is improving thanks to a course of antibiotics. The couple plans to drive down to Connecticut, or wherever he will be released back into the wild.
“Mystic releases mammals most (often) off Blue Shutters Beach in Rhode Island,” Kathy said.
“Kathy really wants to go, so we'll drive down, probably see the aquarium while we're there,” said Tim. “It was good to be able to help.”
Perry said that without the action taken by the Tibbetts and Gamage, the seal would have died.
To report a sighting of injured and/or stranded marine mammals, call MMoME's toll free number: 1-800-532-9551. Pup season runs April through June and more volunteers are needed during this time. For more information on this non-profit organization, and to learn about becoming a volunteer responder, like Perry, visit http://mmome.org.