July 20, 2022
Today, NOAA is declaring an Unusual Mortality Event for elevated Maine harbor and gray seal strandings from June 1, 2022 to present. Seal strandings have been focused along the southern and central coast of Maine from Biddeford to Boothbay (including Cumberland, Lincoln, Knox, Sagadahoc and York Counties). We now have confirmation from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s National Veterinary Services Laboratories that samples from both harbor and gray seals have tested positive for Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) H5N1. HPAI is a “zoonotic disease” that has the potential to spread between animals and people (and their pets).
There is an ongoing HPAI H5N1 event North America that was ﬁrst detected in early winter 2021. The ﬁrst detections in Maine waterfowl were in February 2022. HPAI H5N1 has now been conﬁrmed in 41 U.S. states and 11 Canada provinces, in commercial poultry, backyard ﬂocks, nearly 90 species of wild birds, eight species of scavenging mammals, and now seals. NOAA Fisheries is continuing to work with our local, state, tribal, federal and international partners in the investigation of HPAI in seals.
Declaring an Unusual Mortality Event triggers the development of a response plan and will make available additional resources to respond to any new strandings that occur.
If you see a sick, injured, or dead seal in Maine, please call the Maine Marine Animal Reporting Hotline at (800) 532-9551. To report seal strandings south of Maine, please call the NOAA Fisheries Stranding Hotline: (866) 755-6622. The health risk posed by avian flu to the general public is low; however, precautions are recommended. Please do not touch live or dead seals, don’t allow pets to approach the seal, and observe the animal from a safe distance of 150 feet (safe for you and the animal). Please wait patiently for further guidance from trained responders.
July 11, 2022
On July 11, 2022, the National Veterinary Services Laboratory of USDA confirmed a positive H5N1 HPAI result from a gray seal. The finding is being reported to the World Organization for Animal Health.
July 3, 2022
Beginning in June 2022, Marine Mammals of Maine (MMoME)—a NOAA Fisheries authorized marine mammal stranding network partner—has responded to an elevated number of stranded seals. Most of the seals were found dead. On July 1, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s National Veterinary Services Laboratories confirmed that samples from four stranded seals in Maine have tested positive for Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza H5N1. All of these animals had recently died or required euthanasia. USDA has notified the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as state animal and public health officials. The finding is being reported to the World Organization for Animal Health. HPAI is a “zoonotic disease” that has the potential to spread between animals and people (and their pets).
The current rate of dead seal strandings in this area is approximately three times the normal rate for this time of the year. During elevated stranding events such as this, the Marine Mammal Stranding Network collaborates with NOAA Fisheries to further investigate. They consider environmental conditions, common factors contributing to past stranding events, and any potential human impacts. They also obtain information on the causes of illness and death in the seals. The network will continue to collect and analyze as new cases are documented. Response, recovery and sampling protocols for seals are in place and being led by MMoME.
Seal mortality events have occurred in southern Maine previously. The most recent Unusual Mortality Event in seals occurred in 2018 due to phocine distemper virus. These events can last for several months to several years. They are challenging when the event involves infectious diseases with the potential for spread across wildlife species and domestic animals or to humans. Learn more about unusual mortality events.
NOAA Fisheries has established a coordinated response structure with MMoME, Atlantic Marine Conservation Society, and state and federal partners to manage this event. The response team is meeting daily to share information, support response logistics, and develop accurate public communications. This webpage will be updated as new information becomes available.
***This table is no longer being updated. Refer to the Unusual Mortality Event page for current updates.***
Seal Strandings in Maine by County from June 1- July 19, 2022
- Marine Mammals of Maine
- Atlantic Marine Conservation Society
- Maine Department of Marine Resources
- Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry
- Maine Marine Patrol
- Runstadler Lab at Cummings School for Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University
- USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, National Veterinary Services Laboratories
- U.S. Geological Survey National Wildlife Health Center
- NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement