Posts Tagged 'seals'

Animal Rescue Update: Harp Seal on Maryland Coast

national aquarium Animal Rescue Update

Our Animal Rescue team has been busy lately – besides caring for the 19 sea turtles we currently have in rehabilitation, we have been actively responding to seal sightings all along the Maryland coast. So far this season, we have seen mostly harbor seals visiting the area, but on Saturday, February 8, we had our first confirmed juvenile harp seal sighting of the season at the inlet of Ocean City, MD.

harp seal in ocean city

National Aquarium’s trained first-responders, along with seal steward volunteers from Maryland Coastal Bays Program (MCBP), monitored the condition of the animal, established a ‘safe viewing zone’ for the public and answered questions. Within 48 hours, volunteers with the Aquarium and MCBP interacted with nearly 600 people that stopped by to see and take pictures of the seal from the established safe zone. This harp seal was active, displaying normal seal behaviors and was in good body condition. A volunteer who was monitoring the animal witnessed the seal leaving the beach the afternoon of Monday, February 10.

Early on the morning of February 12th, our Animal Rescue team received a report from a private citizen about a seal sighting at Assateague Island National Seashore.

map of maryland shore

An Aquarium staff member responded to assess the health and condition of the animal, and it was quickly clear that this juvenile harp seal was not feeling well and in need of medical attention. Within two hours of the initial report of the sighting, Aquarium staff (with the help of the National Park Service) successfully determined the condition of the animal, secured a rehabilitation enclosure at the Marine Mammal Stranding Center in Brigantine, New Jersey, and began the transport process. Based on the condition of the animal, both teams surmised that this was a different seal than the individual that was sighted just days before in Ocean City.

Based on the symptoms (lethargy, depressed behavior, resting position) of the Assateague seal, it was suspected that the animal could have ingested sand, shells and possibly rocks – a behavior of harp seals that is well documented in scientific literature and an experience we have seen in admitted harp seal patients. It is unclear as to why juvenile harp seals ingest sand, rocks and shells, but they are the most common seal species to display this abnormal behavior. This ailment can cause impaction of the stomach and severe dehydration – conditions that can prove fatal, even if treated promptly.

stones from seal surgery

In 2004, our Animal Health team removed more than 1 lb. of rocks
from the stomach of a juvenile harp seal.

Despite the best efforts to treat the young harp seal found on Assateague, the animal’s condition deteriorated quickly and, unfortunately, it expired. After further evaluation, our teams were able to carefully compare photos of the harp seal from Ocean City on Feb 8 and the harp seal from Assateague on Feb 12. We have confirmed that it was the same seal at both locations.

We were initially shocked at this finding, as the seal’s health had greatly declined in a short amount of time. It is always difficult to accept when wildlife rehabilitation cases do not have a successful outcome, but it’s a vivid reality of the profession.

Wild animals are extremely adept at masking their illnesses in an effort to decrease their chances of becoming easy targets for prey, and can often times be much sicker than they outwardly appear. While it doesn’t happen often, we have experienced several situations in the last 22 years where seals quickly collapse from conditions such as respiratory distress, intestinal perforations and sepsis. While these cases can be difficult for staff, we use every opportunity to learn as much as we can from these animals – for the sake of the individual animal and the population as a whole.

In an effort to help us monitor seals in Maryland, please report any seal sightings to the Natural Resources Police Hotline at 1-800-628-9944 or Maryland Coastal Bays Program website.

First Seal of the Season Spotted in Maryland!

national aquarium Animal Rescue Update

Earlier this morning, we received photo confirmation of the first seal sighting along the Maryland coast!

seal on the beach

Every winter, migrating seals make their way back to our shores. Seals are semi-aquatic, which means they like to spend part of their time in the water and part of their time on land. During migration, seals will typically spend a couple of days swimming south, occasionally hauling out on beaches, rocks or docks to rest.

If you’re lucky enough to see a seal on the beach, it’s best to give the animal at least 100 feet of space and, if possible, stay downwind. Enjoy watching our seasonal visitors from a distance (and take plenty of photos/videos!) but please try not to disturb them, as they still have a long journey ahead of them!

As you see in the photo above, a healthy seal can usually be observed resting in a “banana position,” on their side with their head and/or rear flippers in the air. A seal that is injured, ill or entangled in marine debris, it will often be seen 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 the Natural Resources Police at (800) 628-9944! 

In Maryland, you can also report seal sightings on the Maryland Coastal Bays Program’s website.

The National Aquarium and Maryland Coastal Bays Program have partnered together to promote responsible viewing of marine mammals, both along the Maryland coast and within the entire mid-Atlantic region. Funding for this joint awareness campaign was provided by the John H. Prescott Marine Mammal Rescue Assistance Grant Program.

national aquarium animal rescue expert

Animal Rescue Update: Responding to Marine Mammal Strandings

Animal Rescue Update

The National Aquarium Animal Rescue team responds to marine mammal and sea turtle strandings along the 4,320 miles of coastline in Maryland. We are permitted for stranding response through the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). All species of marine mammals are federally protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act and include all marine mammal species: dolphins, whales, seals, manatees, polar bears, sea lions, etc. Some marine mammals are fully aquatic, meaning they spend all of their time in the water – like dolphins, whales, and manatees. While other marine mammals are semi-aquatic, meaning they spend part of their time in the water, and part on land. Examples of semi-aquatic marine mammals include seals, polar bears, and sea lions.

Our team recently received a report of a live stranded pilot whale at Assateague Island National Seashore on Saturday, June 1. The animal had reportedly initially stranded earlier in the day and was pushed back into the water by a well-meaning member of the public. By the time the animal restranded the second time, it was lethargic and eventually refloated due to the rising tide. When a dolphin or whale strands, it expends a lot of energy in the process, and they often strand due to an underlying injury or illness.
The stranded pilot whale that appeared last week.

The stranded pilot whale that appeared on the shore of Assateague Island last week.

While it is often tempting to want to help stranded dolphins and whales by pushing them back into the water, this will only result in prolonging the suffering of the animal, as it is highly likely the animal will restrand in another location where first responders are not prepared. Dolphins and whales also carry parasites and diseases that could pose a hazard to humans. In light of this recent stranding, I’d like to share some advice on what you should do when/if you encounter a wild animal on the beach: 

If you encounter a semi-aquatic marine mammal resting on land, such as a seal, count yourself lucky! Sightings of these animals are rare in our area. Appreciate the animal from a safe distance (about 4-5 car lengths), take plenty of pictures or video, and remember that these are wild animals. Wild animals have natural instincts to protect themselves, and when a wild animal feels threatened it can bite. If a wild seal were to bite a human, there would be an unfortunate outcome for the seal due to risk of disease transmission to the human involved. If you suspect a semi-aquatic marine mammal is sick, injured, or in need of medical care, call the local authorities (animal control, coast guard, natural resources police, etc) or NMFS’s Stranding Hotline at 1-866-755-NOAA. Wait for a trained responder to arrive.

If you encounter a fully aquatic marine mammal on the beach, such as a dolphin or whale, document the event with photos or video from a safe distance (remember, they are wild animals), then call the local authorities or the NMFS Stranding Hotline immediately. Trained and authorized responders will be dispatched to assess the animal, collect valuable information, and determine the appropriate care. While it may be tempting to push stranded whales and dolphins back into the water, this is not recommended, as it may cause further injury or stress to the animal. You may be asked to remain on site to monitor the animal until the local responders arrive.

Marine mammal strandings have occurred throughout history, and can take place due to natural or human-related reasons. Marine mammal populations are generally difficult to study due to their extensive range in the open ocean, but strandings give us an opportunity to learn about the health of individual animals, species populations, and the overall health of the ocean – our ‘One Ocean.’

In continued celebration of World Oceans Day, what will YOU do to support the health of our One Ocean?

Blog-Header-JennDittmar

Animal Rescue Update: Goodbye Sodapop, Hello Eyegore!

Animal Rescue Update

The 2012-2013 seal season has been a busy one for our Animal Rescue team!

Last Thursday, we successfully released Sodapop, a male harbor seal that was treated for a severe respiratory infection. An animal release is always a cause for celebration for our department – we spend countless hours caring for animals in rehabilitation, and to be rewarded by seeing an animal return to its natural environment is a joyous event. Despite the rainy weather, we had a large group join us on the beach at Assateague State Park to say farewell to Sodapop!

harbor seal on the beach

At his release, we can only assume Sodapop had the following thought: So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish!

After Sodapop was released, our team had just one seal in rehabilitation – Ponyboy, a male grey seal being treated for a wound to the left front flipper. Ponyboy has been doing great – his wound is healing well, and the veterinarians recently discontinued his antibiotics. He has been enjoying enrichment several times a day, but his favorite enrichment is fishcicles! Fishcicles are jumbo frozen treats with lots of yummy fish, and they are a refreshing way for the seals to enjoy their food. Fishcicles encourage natural foraging behaviors, and stimulate their minds and tactile senses – they are usually a big hit! If Ponyboy continues to improve, we hope to be able to release him in the near future!

grey seal

Ponyboy was not alone at our Seal Rehabilitation Facility for long. The day after Sodapop’s release, we admitted a juvenile grey seal from the Virginia Aquarium Stranding Response Team, named Eyegore the Maniac. Eyegore was initially admitted for rehabilitation on April 18th for a respiratory infection and severe infection of the left eye. After being stabilized at the Virginia Aquarium for about a month, he was transferred to the National Aquarium for long-term rehabilitation.

grey seal eyegore

Eyegore has a feisty demeanor, which is a good trait for a wild seal. His respiratory and eye infection have responded well to antibiotics, though he does have permanent scarring of the left cornea that affects his vision. Eyegore’s health is improving, despite his permanent visual impairment, and he actively enjoys lounging in his rehabilitation pool and interacting with enrichment..

Stay tuned for updates on the progress of these animals, including release details!

Blog-Header-JennDittmar

Our Rescued Harbor Seal is Ready for Release!

We have some great news from our Animal Rescue team! Sodapop, a male harbor seal (named after a famous 80s movie) that has been in rehab since February 15, is ready for release!

Sodapop after a couple of weeks in our Animal Care Center

Sodapop after a couple of weeks in our Animal Care Center

Upon admittance to rehab, Sodapop was emaciated, had a severe respiratory infection, and suffered cuts and scrapes to his face and hips. Sodapop was underweight at only 38 pounds when admitted, but now weighs a healthy 53 pounds.

While in rehab, Sodapop eagerly ate nearly 8 pounds of fish per day! He was on oral antibiotics twice a day to treat the respiratory infection, so staff had to hide the medication in the fish. Luckily, seals swallow their food whole, so it’s easy and stress free to get them their prescribed medications.

As you can see, Sodapop has filled out a bit in recent weeks!

As you can see, Sodapop has filled out a bit since his admittance to our facility!

We are busy planning the details for his release at this time. Want to get real-time, behind-the-scenes updates on Sodapop’s release? Follow our Stranding Coordinator @JennDittmar on Twitter!

Sodapop’s release is scheduled for this Thursday at Assateague State Park. If you’re in the area, join us on the beach for his release!

Stay tuned for more updates on Sodapop’s release! 


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