After near extinction, seals swimming strong again off southern Maine coast

Seal tours

MINGO ROCK, Maine (NEWS CENTER) — "There you go, there you go fella." It was a video that has now garnered 10 million views. A seal rescue off the coast of Maine.  A pair of fishermen videotaped the rescue, cutting plastic netting that was wound around the water creature, threatening its life.

It's a cute video, with a strong message.

Seals frequently get tangled in plastic and netting out in the ocean. And not too long ago, fishermen, worried about their catch, would actually kill them at sea. And that threatened several species.

But, times have changed, and seals have made a comeback in the Isle of Shoals.

On a shelf called Mingo rock, six miles from the mainland, gray seals, harbor and harp seals bob up and down in the water, catching waves, while others pull themselves onto the rocks to sunbathe. Researchers report counting anywhere from 500 to 700 seals gathered at Mingo.

For Jack Farrell, the seals represent an opportunity: to educate and inspire tourists looking for an up close encounter.

"Well good morning everybody and welcome aboard the Utopia."

It's Captain Jack Farrell's first outing of the day onboard his lobster boat.

He's taking a group of high school students to an outcropping just off Duck Island, one of a cluster of small islands and ledges making up the Isles of Shoals six miles off the coast of both Maine and New Hampshire, where the seals have made a triumphant return…

"The way they bottle and bob up and down and look at us. They're as curious about us as we are about them. I think it's really kind of neat."

Naturalist Arthur Eves is chaperoning the students. What he's hoping they get out of their brief interlude with the seals, be it by boat, will last a very long time. "I just want them to come away with a deep love for the natural environment and mostly I think the learning comes from that love and that experience of having just a really good experience with the environment and learning about it."

And, it seems to be having the hoped for impact.

One of the students, Megan, says she is now looking at studying marine biology when she goes to college in a couple of years. And Rhys, another students, says he’ll have a great story to tell his friends when he goes back to school.

"Yeah, so I saw 500 seals this summer. What did you do?" Beaming, he shares his excitement. "These are really cool experiences to have and I'm glad that we got to go out here and have this experience and see 20 seals there in just one spot and then they're all over the place. It's just incredible."

Scientists have been following the seal's progress closely, too — since 2011. They get help from undergraduate college students.

"So they go out 36 times, more or less during the course of the summer and they are counting them, they are looking at their health, they're looking at entanglements."

On nearby Appledore Island, college coeds are working with Wildlife Ecology and Conservation expert Dr. Jennifer Seavey. She is executive director at the Shoals Marine Laboratory. This summer she and the students are focusing on seal’s number one predators: sharks.

"This summer we put out listening devices to listen for sharks. So a lot of people in the Gulf of Maine are interested. It's probably one of the most common questions I get is 'do we see great white sharks' and the answer is stay tuned because those listening devices are recording."

Seavey will know more once she’s been able to listen to those recordings.

In the meantime, back onboard The Utopia, Captain Jack will continue sharing Mingo Rock. He says he considers it his way of fostering a better understanding of our neighbors: the seals. "It's really a great thing to be able to share something that you love so well, so to be able to bring strangers and introduce them to that world and see the looks on their faces and how much fun they have; that's what it's all about."

To learn more about the seal programs on the Isles of Shoals, check out the Marine Lab website:  https://www.shoalsmarinelaboratory.org

If you’re interested in going on a seal watch, contact Seacoast Maritime Charters, home base for Captain Jack and The Utopia at www.seacoastmaritimecharters.com

© 2017 WCSH-TV


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