A Marine Vet Who Is Giving Saving Ailing Seals A New Mean Name

When the seals in Maine start getting into trouble, one woman from Portland calls. Veterinarian Dr. Hannah Wilhelm, who founded the Maine Seal Project in 2000, is a hero of sorts among environmentalists. In 2004, she ran an unsuccessful campaign for a U.S. Congressional seat, and in 2014, she and her nonprofit work nearly rescued the entire fleet of seals and porpoises that were stranded on the coast of Maine. But when a newborn seal in North Una was severely emaciated and even thought to be ready to be euthanized, Ms. Wilhelm was on the scene. The 500-pound female was the capitol of this poor baby seal, struggling to crawl. Ms. Wilhelm reached into the water and placed a fishing line down her mouth to make her mouth look human.

The baby seal was fighting for life at that point, barely clinging to life, and only by managing to reach out did she keep a grasp on life. Finally, as Ms. Wilhelm says, “She was able to reach for that line and pull her life back, and she, in turn, grabbed that line back with her mouth, put it down her throat and, after my net, they pulled her up, and she was rescued.”

That was 24 years ago. Her organization continues, she says, as a conduit for many rescue volunteers from throughout the state, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Still, while Dr. Wilhelm, who is also the head vet at Coos Veterinary Hospital in Portland, says she is used to the sight of coatbridges out of action and contemplating the end of it all, in this case “a being that was not going to make it.”

For now, the rescued seal, a little over three weeks old, is one of a dozen porpoises being treated at Coos Veterinary Hospital. “She’s doing great. She was scheduled to be released today,” she says. Still, “she is still warm, and she’s alert. She is obviously really scared and she’s been the most sensitive animal, but I think we’re making progress.” It will take about a year to get the baby seal ready for release into the wild. Ms. Wilhelm says when she met it, “This little baby, it was showing all the signs that the rest of the seal colonies that it’s in have. It’s got all the signs of being alive but struggling not to be.”

Photo: hannah and tony27

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