A curious seal wandered ashore in Cape Elizabeth Monday, Jan. 23, 2023. Credit: Courtesy of Marine Mammals of Maine

A gray seal pup who set off a snowy, three-act Cape Elizabeth police caper on Monday was probably just looking for a quiet place to nap and regroup on one of its first days without its mother.

That’s the word from Brunswick-based Marine Mammals of Maine, the rehabilitators now caring for the wayward pinniped. Thus, it’s no wonder the big-eyed cutie kept coming ashore, even after being repeatedly returned to the sea by law enforcement officers.

Unlike harbor seals, which are born in the summer months, gray seals give birth between December and February. Maine is in the middle of the seals’ Nova Scotia-to-Massachusetts nursery territory.

Also, while harbor seal mothers wean their pups at around four weeks of age and then spend some time showing the young ones how to fish and take care of themselves, gray seals don’t.

“Their moms just up and leave one day,” said Lynda Doughty, executive director of Marine Mammals of Maine.

This happens when the pups are about three weeks old — just about the age of the Cape Elizabeth seal.

“They’re born with a full set of teeth, and they have to figure things out on their own,” Doughty said.

Some gray seals are better at this task than others.

“Sometimes, you get wayward guys, like this one,” Doughty said. “And they haul out to take a breather before going back in the water to try again.”

Coming out of the water on the beach in Fort Williams Park, the gray seal probably went off in search of some privacy and safe napping conditions. The park’s beach is immediately adjacent to a parking lot and busy road.

Many young gray seals, trying to make it on their own for the first time, haul out in the same fashion, Doughty said. This seal happened to make the news because he did it in a very populated area and was found on a road and then in someone’s front yard. Most gray seals doing the same thing choose unpopulated islands and secluded stretches of shore.

After fetching the seal in Cape Elizabeth late yesterday, Marine Mammal’s rehabilitators gave the gray seal a thorough examination. No external wounds or outward signs of sickness were found.

“He’s just underweight and a little dehydrated,” Doughty said.

After giving the flippered toddler fluids for the first 24 to 48 hours, Doughty said, he will be fed a special, fattening-up fish gruel before graduating to whole fish. Eventually, if all goes well, the seal will be given live fish to catch and eat.

“He will be here for a month or two,” Doughty said. “We’re cautiously optimistic we’ll get him back to the sea. That’s the goal.”

Avatar photo

Troy R. Bennett

Troy R. Bennett is a Buxton native and longtime Portland resident whose photojournalism has appeared in media outlets all over the world.