Growing up in a landlocked country I am intrigued with everything ocean and of course with all the creatures living in it, especially marine mammals. So when I found out about our local Marine Mammal Stranding Network I didn’t hesitate for a second and signed up as a volunteer.
I have mostly been part of the necropsy team the past two years, which is endlessly fascinating. Death is a part of life and we find out so much information from the dead seals, sea lions and porpoises that strand around here. I usually takes notes, and pack up the samples taken.
I have also been part of a seal pup tagging team last year, where we went to one of the smaller islands and tagged two seal pups that had been hanging around for a few days. One of them eventually swam away, the other one turned up dead a few days later (and yes, we necropsied). And once I went out on the boat to count sea lions around our island and check for any injuries.
Today I was called out on my first actual stranding call. Some local residents found a little harbor seal pup that kept getting attacked by eagles. I was the note taker and observer today (I can’t do any lifting due to my bad shoulder). The seal was in rough shape, lots of puncture wounds all over his little head. He was also a Lanugo pup. Lanugo harbor seal pups are essentially premature pups and they are covered in fine, downy white hair. The little guy was so young, his teeth hadn’t even erupted yet.
This is a Lanugo pup, picture taken by Robin Lindsey, South Puget Sound
We did a full checkup on him, weight, length, body temperature. He let us handle him, occasionally calling out and wriggling around. The wounds on his head, especially his left eye were worrisome. Lanugo pups are not usually candidates for rehab and are usually left on the beach (if safe from dogs and humans). But with this little guy we needed a consultation.
Our local wildlife rehabilitation station agreed to take him in and see what they can do for him due to his wounds. If his condition is to critical for rehab, they will humanly euthanize him. The four of us showing up for the pup felt deflated. I was happy when I was handed the form tailored for live strandings, but it quickly turned to a deep sadness once we started examining the animal.
We have to remember that Mother Nature can be very cruel at times and animals eaten by other animals is simply part to the everlasting cycle. However, the fact that Lanugo pups are so darn cute sure doesn’t make it easier on us.
Now, remember, if you ever encounter a seal pup or a hauled out grown seal, please do NOT touch them or disturb them. Don’t let your dogs sniff them, don’t feed them. Keep your distance and if there is cause for concern call your local Stranding Network (they can be found all over the world!). Let the professionals handle the situation. Don’t be dismayed if they cannot do much for the animal either and decide to leave it right where it is. Oftentimes seal pups simply wait for their moms to return, which more often than not they will. If they are abandoned please remember, that the mom probably abandoned the pup for a reason (animals have innate knowledge about their offspring that we often don’t have).
With all this said, my heart went out to the little seal today and I have been thinking about him all afternoon. All I can do at this point is send him love and light and hope for the best.