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Monday, March 21, 2011

Scientists puzzled - Seal Pup in Maine

Harp seal pup found in Maine raises a lot of questions for scientists

"change in migration patterns" ?


BIDDEFORD, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- The University of New England's Marine Animal Rehabilitation Center (MARC) has had a very unusual guest these past few weeks: a harp seal pup.  MARC has had its share of harbor seal pups over the years, and more recently it's been taking care of more and more juvenile and adult harp seals, but it's never had a baby harp seal before. 
The seal, named Stef, was found abandoned in a cove in Sprucehead, Maine in late February.  She has been responding well to her treatment, and could be released in just a couple of weeks.
But Stef's birth in Maine was a surprise, since harp seals generally give birth to their pups on the ice in northern Canada, or Greenland.  And now scientists are worried that MARC might be seeing more and more pups like her.
The harp seal population has been growing in Canada, while its icy habitat has been shrinking, and so has its food source.  Scientists don't know whether the changes are related to climate change or not, but the result appears to be that the seals are travelling further south to find food.  UNE professor James Sulikowski says that change in migration patterns is important to study because could eventually affect Maine's fishery.
"It could put pressure on our ecosystems," Sulikowski said. "It could mean that they're going to take over habitats that are used by other species."

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