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Save (Don't Club) Seals

A nice Christmas story...
'Fat, happy,' seals sent back to sea

By NOEL K. GALLAGHER, Staff Writer © Copyright 2006 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. :ap --Sunday, December 17, 2006

SCARBOROUGH - As fast as their chubby little bodies would carry them, four young harbor seal pups rescued by the Marine Animal Lifeline were returned to the sea Saturday with a plop! plop! plop! into the surf at Pine Point Park.

"Oh! Aren't they cute!" Leigh Greenberg said softly as the now-robust harbor seals made a beeline for the water. Onlookers were asked to remain quiet while the seals were on the sand so they wouldn't get scared and try to return to their cages. Once they hit the water -- one diving right in and the other three hesitating a few moments -- the crowd cheered, urging them to open water.

"This is the payoff," said a beaming Greg Jakush, president and founder of the Marine Animal Lifeline in Westbrook. "They come in emaciated and on the verge of death and then we get to see them fat and happy, running back into the water."

The harbor seal pups were the last of about 100 harbor seal pups returned to the sea after they were rescued by the center. All four were rescued from Maine beaches during the late summer, weighing about 12 pounds. The largest of the four released Saturday was up to 92 pounds.

Several hundred people gathered during the unseasonably warm day to watch the release, and a few hardy souls even arrived in shorts.

Children and dogs raced around the beach while "Santa" and Marine Animal Lifeline volunteers carried the four cages to the water's edge.

It was the second harbor seal release for Karen Libby and her two children, 4-year-old Erin and 8-year-old Kate.

"They love it," Libby said, motioning to her children, who were crowded into the first row so they could get a good look at the seals. "They have the 'Andre the Seal' book," one of two children's books about the harbor seal that for years visited Rockport and is memorialized by a statue there.

Jakush, a former dolphin trainer who founded the Marine Animal Lifeline 17 years ago, said the releases help people understand the work done at the animal rescue center.

"The only way to see what we truly do is to come to these releases," he said.

He said the center mostly takes in abandoned pups. They're frequently found on beaches, left behind by mothers who leave to feed but won't return when crowds of people form around the pups.

Now that colder weather has arrived, the center will get calls about different seal species. It recently took in its first hooded seal pup, Jakush said.

Eric Boylestad, a Scarborough man who fishes off a sandbar near the beach, said he sees harbor seals out in the open water.

"It's just great to see all the support and all the people here," he said.

Staff Writer Noel K. Gallagher can be contacted at 324-4888 or at:

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