2018–2020 Pinniped Unusual Mortality Event Along the Northeast Coast
Since July 2018, elevated numbers of harbor seal and gray seal mortalities have occurred across Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts. This event has been declared an unusual mortality event (UME).
Since July 2018, elevated numbers of harbor seal (Phoca vitulina) and gray seal (Halichoerus grypus) mortalities have occurred across Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts. This event has been declared an Unusual Mortality Event (UME). Additionally, we have had seals showing clinical signs stranding as far south as Virginia, although not in elevated numbers, therefore the UME investigation now encompasses all seal strandings from Maine to Virginia. Lastly, ice seals (harp and hooded seals) have also started stranding with clinical signs, again not in elevated numbers, and those two seal species have also been added to the UME investigation.
Seal Strandings by State, July 1, 2018–March 13, 2020
Why are Seals Stranding?
Full or partial necropsy examinations have been conducted on some of the seals and samples have been collected for testing. Based on tests conducted so far, the main pathogen found in the seals is phocine distemper virus. Phocine distemper virus is not zoonotic, which means it cannot be transferred to humans, but it may still be able to affect pets. The test results do not provide strong evidence that avian influenza virus is a cause of the current Northeast Pinniped UME. We are continuing additional testing to identify any other factors that may be involved in this event and will share those findings when available.
As part of the UME investigation process, an independent team of scientists (Investigative Team) is being assembled to coordinate with the Working Group on Marine Mammal Unusual Mortality Events to review the data collected and provide guidance for the investigation.
How Can I Help?
Report a Stranded or Floating Seal
The most important step members of the public can take to assist investigators is to immediately report any sightings of live seals in distress or dead seals. Make the report by calling the NOAA hotline at 1 (866) 755-NOAA (6622) or by contacting your local marine mammal stranding network member by visiting our Stranding Network web page for local contact information.
Please do not approach or touch the seal.
Donate to the UME Contingency Fund
Congress established the Marine Mammal Unusual Mortality Event Contingency Fund in 1992. It gave the Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program special authority to gather private donations to help it investigate and respond to marine mammal unusual mortality events.