A premature harbor seal pup that was stranded on Islesboro is being cared for at the University of New England (UNE) before it’s released back into the ocean.

The pup was discovered after a call was made to Fred Porter, senior officer with the Islesboro police department, who responded to Hermits Point Road Wednesday, April 10. Porter then contacted Allied Whale, a research group from the College of the Atlantic that is authorized to rescue marine mammals, which retrieved the animal before taking it to UNE.

Rosemary Seton, a research associate and marine mammal stranding coordinator, said she decided to rescue the seal pup, named “Runt” by UNE rehabilitation staff, because she was concerned about bad weather that was forecast to hit the island Friday, April 12.

“It was one sleepy pup,” Seton said of Runt because he spent the majority of the ride to UNE asleep.

In many instances, if a seal pup were reported as being stranded, Allied Whale staff would evaluate the animal before deciding to take it to a rehabilitation center. She said seal pups are often left alone for long periods of time while the mother searches for food. For that reason, Seton said, it is not uncommon for seal pups to be seen alone on a beach.

“Seals need to haul out; they need to get out of the water for long periods of time,” Seton said. “To call a seal stranded is a gray area. It’s probably just enjoying a rest.”

She continued, saying she was able to quickly identify the pup as premature because harbor seals typically give birth in May. The pup weighed in at 13 pounds and measured 24 inches long, according to information posted on UNE’s rehabilitation website.

Making the decision to take a seal pup to a rehabilitation facility is difficult, Seton said, because the pup will do better with its mother than it does being cared for by people. She explained that seals nurse their pups for only one month before the pups begin eating solid foods, such as fish. She noted that seals do not instinctively identify fish as a food source and must be taught that they are edible.

While Runt is at UNE’s rehabilitation facility, he will be tube-fed a special formula before moving onto gruel and then eventually will be fed fish. The entire rehabilitation process could take as long as six months, Seton said, because the facility staff will have to teach Runt everything he would have learned from his mother.

Seton said if anyone finds a marine animal, such a seal, on a beach or in another area they should maintain as much distance as possible from the animal. Pets should also be prevented from getting close to the animal because harbor seals can carry diseases that would be dangerous to pets.

Anyone who sees a seal or other marine mammal that they believe is in trouble should call the Marine Animal Reporting hotline at 800-532-9551.

Republican Journal reporter Ben Holbrook can be reached at 338-3333 or at bholbrook@coruierpublicationsllc.com.