ME - Harbor seals a plenty in the Gulf of Maine: Great for tourists, not the ecosystem
There is a point where the ecosystem reaches its carrying capacity and overpopulation occurs setting off a myriad of unwanted consequences. As humans, we do not always realize soon enough when this happens, mainly because we have spent years humanizing these wild animals and forgetting that they are wild animals. Sometimes nature does have to take its course.
Harbor seals have been in the news lately; they are the iconic loveable mammals of our seaside.
Harbor seals and all marine mammals were protected when the Marine Mammal Protection Act was passed by Congress on October 21, 1972. This ended all hunting of marine mammals.
Until the 1960s, there were bounties paid for harbor seal hides to protect the fisheries in some New England states. The number of harbor seals had decreased, and the numbers have steadily increased since the protection began.
Harbor seals are a true seal weighing in at 180 to 285 pounds. They average between 5 to 6 feet in length.
These seals have a fused pelvic bone which does not allow them to stand on their hind legs like sea lions. Instead, they snake and waddle their way across land.
Unlike sea lions, they have no voice or external ears.
Harbor seals feed on fish and shellfish around 20 pounds a day and can sleep underwater for up to 30 minutes. They reach maturity between 3 to 7 years of age and live to 25. Calving occurs in May and June here in the Gulf of Maine and the pups are weaned in three to four weeks. They are the most common and recognizable marine mammals in New England and the U.S.
In the past decade, the number of harbor seals has increased to the point that they are now seen everywhere in the Gulf of Maine. Instead of only being visible in the harbors during the winter months, they can be viewed any time of the year. Great for the tourists, not so great for the ecosystem.