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A dead juvenile seal found in front of a home in Providence on Monday had been previously found dead on a beach this winter by staff of the Mystic Aquarium.
On Monday morning, Providence police received a report of the seal lying next to a curb in front of a home on Evergreen Street in Providence.
Next to the decomposing female harp seal was a handmade cardboard sign that read "Free Seal, (To a good home, Naps a lot, Housebroken)," according to The Providence Journal.
Police and the Rhode Island Department of Emergency Management responded to the scene and contacted the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration because the seal is a protected animal under federal law.
NOAA officials launched a criminal investigation and contacted Mystic Aquarium to take possession of the seal and perform a necropsy. The aquarium is the only institution authorized to respond to marine mammal and sea turtle incidents in Connecticut and Rhode Island.
When the seal carcass arrived at the aquarium Monday afternoon, Skip Graf, the aquarium's assistant stranding coordinator, quickly realized that he had seen this female harp seal before.
Graf said each harp seal has a unique spotted pattern, and he was able to quickly match the Providence seal to the one found on the beach based on photos taken of that seal.
Graf said aquarium staff had found the seal dead on a beach this winter. A stranding team documented the find and did not feel the seal's death was the result of any human interaction, such as being caught in a fishing net.
Because of the decomposition of the seal, Graf said not much could be learned from a necropsy. So the seal was left on the beach to be buried, something he said landowners or municipalities typically take care of. In this case, he said it appears that did not happen.
Instead, someone took the seal and drove it "a considerable distance" to Providence.
Graf declined to say where and when the aquarium originally found the seal, as NOAA has asked that those details not be released during its investigation.
He said it was "a big relief" to discover that the 44-pound seal had not died or been harmed on its way to Providence. Still, he said whoever took the seal could face stiff fines and federal prison time.
Graf added the incident is one of the strangest calls he's ever been involved with.
Anyone with information about the seal is asked to call the aquarium's stranding program at (860) 572-5955 ext. 107, and Graf will relay the information to investigators.