PHIPPSBURG — Harbor seal No. 134 was clawing at the door of her cage even before she got out of the truck.

Back in early July, she weighed only 28 pounds when she was found on Higgins Beach in Scarborough. In addition to being underweight, the young seal had an injured eye and a puncture wound on her flipper.

But she lost no time skedaddling into the ocean late Sunday afternoon, delighting the roughly 200 people gathered on Head Beach to send her and harbor seal No. 129 – a male discovered July 9 on Old Orchard Beach – back to the cool Atlantic waters they call home.

“Oh, it’s so cute!” a child yelled as the two seals started their galumphing shimmy down to the water’s edge. Giggles and laughter broke out at their ungainly gait, followed by cheers and clapping as they hit the water and swam off in the rough surf.

“He loves it!” said Emery Trask, 3, as his mother, Rebecca Doyle of Phippsburg, held him so he could see the seals. “That was so cool!” added his brother, Nathan Trask.

It’s the first seal release by the Marine Mammals of Maine since the abrupt closure in 2014 of the University of New England’s marine mammal rehabilitation center in Biddeford, which traditionally handled the care of critically injured animals in Maine.

Marine Mammals of Maine received temporary authorization from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to provide long-term rehabilitation to the two seals. They are the first seals rehabbed by the group, according to Executive Director Lynda Ada Doughty.

For Isaac Wright, 8, it was a farewell. He’s been feeding the two seals at the marine mammal triage center in Harpswell, where his mother, Katie, is a volunteer.

“You throw the fish over a wall. They’re herring. They’re frozen. Number 129 was always playing with the fish before he ate them,” said Wright, in his bright orange rain jacket and matching boots. His little brother, Bowman, 5, also got to feed the seals.

“I’m really happy for them,” said Isaac, looking out to the water, the seals long gone. One day, he thinks, he’d like to work with marine mammals for a job.

Doughty said harbor seal No. 129 was about 4 to 6 weeks old – but only weighed about 17 pounds, less than a healthy harbor seal at birth – when he was found.

Doughty founded Marine Mammals of Maine in 2011 after the Maine Department of Marine Resources, which was authorized to respond to strandings in the area, lost federal funding for the work. The nonprofit now responds to about 300 live and dead mammals and sea turtles reported through its hotline.


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