Posts Tagged 'ocean city seals'

The season for helping seals

From Jenn Dittmar and Amber White

Spring is here, and that means thoughts of warmer weather, the beach, and vacations are in the air! But here in the Marine Animal Rescue Program (MARP), spring is the season for seals. It’s the time of year that seals, and other marine mammal species like whales and dolphins, can be found along the Mid-Atlantic shoreline.

As we’ve noted in past posts, these animals, although beautiful to see in our area, are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), and should be left to explore their natural environment without interruption. However, there are occasional circumstances in which a marine mammal is in distress, and is in need of medical care from trained veterinarians.

Already this year, we have received many reports of seal sightings in the region. Our staff and volunteers are specially trained to assess, monitor, and sometimes collect the animals if they are in need of rehabilitation.

"Stewie" lounging by his rehabilitation pool

In the past two weeks, we admitted two grey seals for rehabilitation. Rehabilitating wild animals can be difficult, as there is a need to minimize human contact. Our staff and volunteers work very hard to ensure the animals receive the best possible care while maintaining their natural behaviors and instincts.

On March 14, a young gray seal pup was admitted to our rehabilitation program. He was spotted on the beach in northern Ocean City, and our responders quickly evaluated his overall body condition and behavior. They reported that the animal appeared dehydrated, lethargic, and seemed to be coughing frequently. It quickly became apparent that the seal, later named Stewie, is still quite young. At the time, staff were unsure if he was even old enough to be eating and hunting for food on his own.

Once admitted for rehab and stabilized, staff tried various techniques to encourage his natural food hunting instincts. Those instincts quickly kicked in and he is currently eating 7 pounds of fish per day! He has shown improvements in his health and spends time swimming in his rehab pool.

On March 17, the MARP team received a call from North Carolina asking if we had room to admit an additional gray seal for rehabilitation. Their staff had been monitoring a juvenile gray seal for several days, and noted that the animal was emaciated, dehydrated, and had grown increasingly lethargic over two days.

"Guinness" swimming in his rehabilitation pool.

The seal was initially transported to the Virginia Aquarium’s rehabilitation facility for triage and some much-needed fluids. On March 18, the MARP team, in conjunction with the Virginia Aquarium Stranding Program and the MERR Institute in Delaware, transported the animal to Baltimore.

Appropriately named Guinness, as he stranded on St. Patrick’s Day, the seal was immediately provided triage and supportive care. Upon examination by our veterinary staff, it was determined that Guinness was suffering from pneumonia, a moderate jaw fracture, and an upper respiratory infection. Guinness is responding well to treatment and is currently eating more than 12 pounds of fish per day!

Both seals continue to do well, and we are looking forward to keeping you informed on their progress while they are in rehabilitation with us at the National Aquarium.

In addition to these two seals, we are still caring for the 11 sea turtles that came to us in December from the New England Aquarium. Caring for these animals is very costly. If you’d like to contribute to their care and feeding, you can make a donation online, or donate $5 right from your mobile phone by texting ACT to 20222.

A one-time donation of $5 will be added to your mobile phone bill or deducted from your prepaid balance. All donations must be authorized by the account holder. All charges are billed by and payable to your mobile service provider. Service is available on most carriers. Donations are collected for the benefit of the National Aquarium by the Mobile Giving Foundation and subject to the terms found at www.hmgf.org/t. Messaging & Data Rates May Apply. You can unsubscribe at any time by texting STOP to 20222; text HELP to 20222 for help.

Winter visitors to Maryland

While humans may not appreciate the benefit of a cold, brisk day outside (much like it has been in Maryland lately), there are some animals that certainly enjoy the cold weather in Maryland… seals!

Every winter we receive questions from Marylanders about groups of seals spotted along the coast for extended periods of time, wondering if this is a common occurence or something officials should be monitoring. We’re very glad you asked, and happy to share more information about seals.

Seals are seasonal visitors to Maryland during the winter months, and will even travel as far south as North Carolina. They prefer a cold-water environment and often travel south from subarctic areas in the winter months.

These mammals are semi-aquatic, which means they like to spend part of the time in the water, and part of the time on land. They will typically spend multiple days swimming south, only to haul out on beaches, rocks or docks to rest for 24 hours or more. Seals will also haul out on exceptionally stormy or sunny days – this gives them a chance to wait out the stormy seas or soak up some warm sun, depending on the weather.

If you’re lucky enough to see a seal on the beach in Maryland, it’s best to give the animal a lot of space – at least 100 feet, or about the length of six standard cars – and stay downwind of the animal if possible. Disturbing seals by making them change locations or flee back into the water is against the law, as they are federally protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Aside from being illegal to approach them, it is in your best interest to keep your distance! Even though they look very cute and innocent, we must remember that they are wild animals. Take a look at the teeth on this furry guy:

So how do you know if a seal is just resting or possibly stranded? A healthy, resting seal will typically be resting in a “banana position,” on its side with its head or rear flippers in the air, like this:

A seal that is entangled in marine debris or has physical wounds and may be in need of medical attention will often be resting flat on its stomach. If you see a seal that may be in need of medical attention, please call the National Aquarium’s Stranding Hotline at 410-373-0083, or Natural Resources Police at 1-800-628-9944.

By all means, enjoy watching the seals and take plenty of pictures, but please do not disturb them – they have had a long commute from the north!

Helping harbor seals

Harbor seals are the most common seal seen along the East Coast. They live in temperate coastal habitats, spending most of their time in water. But they often use rocks, reefs and beaches for rest, social interaction, to avoid predators and to give birth.  It’s pretty common to see seals on the beaches in Maryland in the winter months.

Because of this, the Aquarium’s Marine Animal Rescue Program works closely with animal control officials in Maryland to monitor seals that arrive on beaches in the event that they are stranded due to sickness or injury. When a report is made, the protocol is to observe the animal for 24-48 hours unless there is an obvious emergency.

A few weeks ago our MARP team responded to reports of two harbor seals who seemed to have been visiting the Ocean City beach a little longer than normal. One seal showed no sign of distress, but was too distracted by people and other animals to make its way back into the ocean.  The seal was eventually transported to Assateague State Park by trained Aquarium responders and released back into the ocean.

The other seal was suffering from a large wound to its front left flipper and admitted to the National Aquarium for rehabilitation on January 23rd. Check out the video below to see how our newest patient is recovering!

Many of the animals admitted to the Aquarium require extensive care in our hospital facilities for as long as six months or more. Medical equipment, medications, and food for these animals can be expensive. Your donation today will help with the rehabilitation of this seal. Click here to learn more.


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