Photo Gallery | A young gray seal was found on the doorstep of Mercy Hospital in Portland
Mercy Hospital had an unusual visitor early Friday morning – a young gray seal that had managed to negotiate the Fore River Parkway and climb the hill to the hospital's main entrance.
The seal was discovered at 4 a.m. by a crew with Seabreeze Property Service, which maintains the hospital grounds and was there to clear snow.
"When I first saw it, it looked like somebody snuggled up in a blanket, wiggling around," said Mike Gherrien, of Buxton, who works with the company.
Gherrien said the seal, almost three feet long, appeared to be bleeding slightly form the mouth, and they were told later that may have been because she was eating snow and ice.
When the female, born in the last few months but old enough to be away from its mother, started working its way farther inland, Gherrien and three other workers blocked its path.
"We sort of guided it back down the hill," across the street and into the Fore River, he said. "It lunged a few times at my shovel."
The seal seemed to resist bare pavement, but when the workers used shovels to put snow in front of it, the seal quickly slid over it, he said. The seal was oblivious to the dangers of the road and was hesitant to get in the water, he said.
"He really didn't seem too interested to be back in the water," he said. But once in the river, the seal swam off, he said. The whole operation took about 25 minutes.
When they first discovered the seal, workers notified security which called Portland police who then notified Marine Mammals of Maine. Linda Doughty, executive director, started in from Phippsburg, but by the time she got to Yarmouth, the seal was already back in the water.
Doughty said it is not unusual for seals to pull themselves out of the water to rest or regulate their temperature. They only need to be in the water to feed, and sometimes they need a break, she said.
Marine mammal groups say people who discover a seal should generally leave it alone. If it appears injured or sick, they should notify one of the organizations that responds to distressed seals. In southern Maine, the Marine Mammals of Maine can be contacted at 233-3199.
"This time of year, the species that we deal with tend to be a little wayward. Sometimes they just get a little off track," Doughty said.
Gray seals are born between January and March and stay with their mother for three weeks, she said.
"The species we see this time of year are a little hardier than the harbor seals born in early summer," she said. "They have more of an attitude. They're well suited to the conditions we see this time of year."
"We just responded to a young gray seal this week, on the back porch of somebody's cottage in Cape Elizabeth," she said.
Doughty said marine mammal responders would like to get an assessment of a seal and its condition before deciding what to do, in case it needs rehabilitation.
"Most people are well meaning in trying to help the animal," she said, though it's usually best to leave it where it is. She said it would be unlikely she would have left the seal at the hospital entrance, and if it was healthy, would have helped it back to the beach.
Doughty said the area's native seal population, harbor seals and gray seals, is healthy.