By next winter the Marine Animal Lifeline, a rescue and rehabilitation group for seals, dolphins and porpoises, will call Scarborough home. The group has recently closed on a piece of land on Route 1 and got Planning Board permission for the project late last year.

The move will benefit the group in many ways, according to founder and President Greg Jakush. First, the organization will own the land, which in turn will give it more security than it now has leasing space on County Road in Westbrook. It also will allow the organization the opportunity to construct more permanent buildings when necessary. Finally, the new site is closer to the ocean, which will make transporting the animals easier.

Lifeline members and volunteers have begun working at the new site, renovating the existing house into offices. The next steps in the process will be moving three or four of the buildings from their current site to the one in Scarborough. These buildings house the various holding areas for the Lifeline’s animals.

“It’s going to have to be well choreographed because we always have animals. There hasn’t ever been a minute in the last five years we haven’t had an animal in for rehab,” Jakush said. There are 29 animals now at the facility.

In the future Jakush hopes to build a new building that would house all of the organization’s operations in a single space. But first the organization needs to get a cost estimate and then begin raising money for the project.

The Marine Animal Lifeline began rescue operations in 1996, but the planning for the organization started two years earlier while Jakush was training dolphins and seals in Florida.

“I loved training dolphins and seals, but I wanted to do something that had a little more meaning,” he said.

He decided to form the organization in Maine because it was one of three states without a seal rescue organization in operation or in the planning stages. In addition, Maine is a popular area for seals, most of which travel down from Canada.

During its first two years of operation, the Marine Animal Lifeline was only rescuing seals. It then added animal rehabilitation after getting some space at the Darling Marine Center in Damariscotta.

A year later it moved to Westbrook where members built three holding areas for the animals that are used for the different stages of their recovery. In addition, an office building on site was renovated to house examination area and food storage.

Today the Maine Animal Lifeline is one of the most active stranding centers on the eastern seaboard and has become a recognized expert in seal rescue and rehabilitation. Last year the group rescued and rehabilitated 805 animals; since its founding, the group has rescued more than 3,400 animals.

The Lifeline receives information about stranded seals through its hotline. The hotline number – 851-6625 – is distributed throughout coastal communities by flyers and signs. In addition, local police departments also are notified and use it when they encounter stranded seals.

The most common seal injuries fall into two categories, Jakush said. One is human intervention, meaning a human or human-related event was responsible for the injury. The other is natural consequences, such as infections or injures caused by another animal.

When the hotline gets a call, volunteers living nearby are contacted. After arriving at the scene the volunteers assesses the situation and call the Lifeline back with a report. It is then decided if the animal needs to be transported to the facility. It usually takes only about 15 to 30 minutes for a volunteer to arrive on scene after receiving a call.

The Marine Animal Lifeline is a non-profit organization and the majority of its funding comes from donations, grants and membership dues. Today it employs six people, including a veterinarian, three vet techs, and heavily relies on 150 volunteers who assist with the rescues. While the Marine Animal Lifeline has a good number of volunteers, Jakush said it could use more and is always accepting applications. For more information on the organization call 773-7377 or visit stranding.org.