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NOAA Declares Seal Die-Off An 'Unusual Mortality Event'

Patty Wight
Maine Public
Rescued seals undergoing rehabilitation at Marine Mammals of Maine in Harpswell, seen Aug. 14, 2018.

The federal government is declaring the deaths of hundreds of seals off the New England coast this summer to be "an unusual mortality event,” and it is warning the public to stay away from the stranded animals if they encounter them along Maine's beaches.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has said that the dead seals found in New England have tested positive for avian flu and phocine distemper. During a morning teleconference with reporters Friday, NOAA staff biologist Ainsley Smith said that since July 1, nearly 600 seals have been found stranded or washed ashore on northern New England beaches with the majority of fatalities in Maine.

"So the breakdown by state is Maine, 430, New Hampshire 72, Massachusetts 97, for a total of 599, as of this morning,” said Smith. “And those are confirmed cases.”

NOAA says that it will investigate the "elevated strandings of harbor and grey seals in the Northeast attributed to disease."

The agency says that declaring a marine mammal die-off as an "unusual mortality event" means the deaths will be prioritized for investigation and response.

Should you encounter a dead or dying seal, NOAA officials are asking members of the public to contact its regional stranding hotline at 1-866-755-6622.