A very lucky seal pup has been saved from an entanglement ordeal by a pair of lobstermen who spotted the youngster in a mess of discarded fishing gear off the coast of Maine. 

Rescuing marine life without proper training can have its hazards, but it's very possible that this pup would have drowned had Jeffrey Dorr and his team at Dorrs Boatworks not intervened. Exactly how the animal – which appears to be a baby harbour seal – ended up in the net remains a mystery, but it likely attempted to use the discarded gear as a raft, or to escape a hungry predator. 

Some commenters have expressed concern about the seal's ability to survive on its own, noting that it appeared too young to hunt. But it's possible this individual had already set off on its own before the mishap in the net. Pups feed on their mothers' fatty milk for just a month before weaning, and pupping season is in full swing between May and June, with some harbour seals giving birth as early as April.

According to Lynda Doughty, executive director of rescue group Marine Mammals of Maine (MMoM), the pup appeared healthy. "The animal seemed vocal and alert, which is a good [sign]," she told Boston.com.

As the height of lobster season rolls round, fishermen in Maine have their eyes on the ocean, and many have reported an influx of marine litter in recent months. As we've discussed before, netting and plastic debris are particularly dangerous to seal pups, who are curious by nature and prone to "investigating" foreign objects. Weanlings tend to swim head-first into plastic bags, and discarded items can knock them around at high tide. 

The rescued seal was released about 25 miles from Owls Head in the northeast corner of the state, and Doughty encourages anyone who spots it (or any other distressed pup) to promptly contact local wildlife officials.

Approaching seals, even to lend a helping hand, is illegal in the US under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Cute as they appear, seals can pack a toothy, bacteria-laden bite, so it's best to keep your distance. What's more, attempts to aid pups can have unintended consequences. 

"All too often, a dependent pup is left to rest on its own on busy beaches or popular visiting areas," says the MMoM team. "If a mother harbour seal returns to reunite with her pup and finds busy human activity, or the pup has been moved to a different location by people, this can lead to abandonment."

Just last week, the team responded to a call from nearby Orchard Beach, where a tiny male was found dehydrated and alone. "He has been receiving round-the-clock care in our triage center," they wrote on Facebook. "Thanks to the diligent work of our trained staff, volunteers, and interns, he has been improving greatly."



Top header image: Mick Thompson/Flickr