In this AP file photo, a harp seal pauses after being released in Maine following treatment after being found stranded earlier in the year. Experts are trying to pinpoint the cause of a sharp increase in harp seal strandings in 2019. About 70 of the marine mammals were found stranded in Maine since Jan. 1, 2019 compared to less than a dozen the previous year. Credit: Joel Page | AP

Around 70 harp seals have been stranded in Maine since the beginning of the year, according to rescue organization Marine Mammals of Maine.

Executive director Lynda Doughty says that’s about eight times the typical number.

“Most of the seals that we’ve really responded to have been really dehydrated,” she says.

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Doughty says it’s important for humans to keep their distance to avoid causing further harm to the seals, who will, as she puts it, “stress eat.”

“Essentially start to eat anything in front of them. So in some cases these animals may be on a sandy beach or rocky beach, and they start to ingest sand and rocks,” she says.

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Doughty says a necropsy on one seal found five pounds of sand and rocks in its stomach.

The cause of the seals’ dehydration is unclear. The current stranding is different from a mortality event last summer, when hundreds of harbor seals were stranded or washed ashore due to distemper.

This article appears through a media partnership with Maine Public.