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Delaware sees more strandings along the coast

Courtesy of MERR Institute
Phil the harbor seal at Coursey Pond in December 2016.

Over the last month-and-a-half, the Marine Education Research and Rehabilitation Institute has responded to a flurry of strandings - from seals and harbor porpoises to humpback whales.

On Tuesday alone, the MERR Institute responded to two separate seal strandings in Dewey Beach and South Bethany. 


MERR Institute executive director Suzanne Thurman said they’re getting about a half dozen calls per week about sightings and strandings - and the fact it’s almost a daily occurrence is not normal. 


Thurman said the MERR Institute can’t pinpoint one specific cause for the spike in strandings, but points to human-related activity - such as underwater noise from large ships - as one possible factor. She says it interferes with a marine mammal’s perception of sound - a primary sense.


“When they’re deprived of that primary sense it’s making it all the more difficult to survive - and this extends to mothers and their young they can’t necessarily see each other to stay connected…” Thurman said.


If they can’t hear each other, the baby could get separated from the mother, with no chance of survival, Thurman said.


Habitat quality is also a factor. Thurman said temperature and salinity affect ocean health, which affects a predation. 


“If animals cannot find food they start to weaken, they start to dehydrate, then their immune system is suppressed and they’re open to disease they may be less strong in navigating,” Thurman said.


When they’re weak, these animals are more prone to getting hit by a ship, she said.


The problem is not limited to Delaware, Thurman said. She’s spoken with New Jersey marine scientists who say it’s also an issue there.