When the University of New England abruptly shuttered its marine mammal rehabilitation center last May, Lynda Doughty and the other trained handlers who respond to hundreds of calls for abandoned seal pups and stranded dolphins in Maine knew they were in for a difficult season.

Calls inevitably spike around Memorial Day, as beach-goers come across solitary seal pups potentially abandoned by their mothers. The closure of UNE’s facility meant the only licensed rehab facilities available to Marine Mammals of Maine, which Doughty runs, and their partners at the College of the Atlantic’s Allied Whale program were hours away in Massachusetts and Connecticut – assuming those centers even had room and the animals could withstand the stressful move.

But Doughty, her one part-time employee and Marine Mammals of Maine’s cadre of volunteers did what they could to keep up. So far this year, they have physically responded to about 300 calls between Kittery and Rockland.

“There were animals that we had to put down because there was no place for them to go,” the Phippsburg resident said. “And that is very hard for our volunteers and our staff, because that is not why we do this.”

Doughty, 39, hopes that won’t be the case for long.

Since the UNE center’s closure, Doughty has been working with Marine Mammals of Maine’s board of directors to develop plans and raise money for a new rehab facility somewhere along the coast of southern Maine.


This wouldn’t be Doughty’s first move to fill a gap in the network that responds to stranded porpoises, sick sea turtles or injured seals. A graduate of Maine Maritime Academy, Doughty was the Maine Department of Marine Resources’ marine mammal strandings coordinator for about six years before that position was terminated in 2011 when federal funding was lost. She then worked with others to found Marine Mammals of Maine.

“Growing up on the coast and going out in the boat … I really developed a love for these animals,” the Phippsburg native said.

Her counterpart in Bar Harbor, Rosemary Seton of Allied Whale, said she is excited about the prospect of another a rehab facility. Allied Whale responds to calls east of Rockland, so an injured animal in Eastport would have to be trucked more than 7 hours to the rehab center in Mystic, Conn. The two organizations often work together now to shuttle animals whenever possible.

Seton said 2014 “was a tough season” for both groups, but Marine Mammals of Maine has the added challenge of having more sandy beaches and more people in its territory – and therefore more calls for help.

“I don’t know how she did it,” Seton said.

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