Sun, Sand, Seaweed and Seals
On April 25, a Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife agent found a Harbor Seal pup alone on the beach near North Cove. This was not at all unexpected. Seal pups are often left alone on the beach for extended periods while their mothers are busy foraging. But this pup had clearly been alone for several days. He was on the verge of starvation. His front flippers were swollen and scraped, and he also had an injury to his right eye. He needed help. After getting the OK from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries department (the federal agency that manages marine mammals), the wildlife agent collected the young seal and delivered him to PAWS. He was admitted to the wildlife center as case number 070431.
On April 26, a nearly identical scenario played out on another stretch of beach near North Cove. By the end of the day, another hungry seal pup was admitted to PAWS and given the case number 070437. Both seals were nursed back to health and they were eventually introduced to one another. For the following three months, they passed their time in captivity together. They grew, they learned how to swim, but mostly they ate...and ate...and ate...turning pounds of herring and smelt into thick layers of seal blubber.
At last, on July 19 it was time for both seals to return home. They had shared a pool at the wildlife center, and now they would share the largest pool in the world. The following photos tell their story.
At admission, Harbor Seal 070431 was skin and bones. He weighed only 15.5 pounds.
Harbor Seal 070437 was slightly better off, weighing 17.7 pounds when he was admitted.
The seals learned how to swim and practiced catching live fish during their time at PAWS.
When they were too young to stay in the pool around the clock, the seals were towel-dried after each swimming session. At times it looked like we were running some kind of Harbor Seal spa. Eventually, the seals were able to stay in the water, and they grew at a surprising rate. By release on July 19, seal 070431 weighed about 50 pounds, and seal 070437 weighed 80 pounds!
Ranger Daniel Yorkston of Twin Harbors State Park assisted with the seal release. Here he opens the carrier that contains seal 070431 on a beach near North Cove. The seal was apparently very anxious. Note the flipper pushing against the door.
Once the door was open, seal 070431 paused to take in the view.
He put his chin on the sand and sniffed at the salty air.
An incoming wave washed over the seal's face. He seemed to enjoy the sensation.
The wave receded, leaving the seal with a bit of seaweed on his face.
Meanwhile, seal 070437 was undulating his way out of his carrier and toward the water.
As seal 070437 splashed around in the shallow water, seal 070431 was encouraged to come out of his carrier as well.
We pulled the carriers away from the water and both seals eyed us with quizzical looks.
Seal 070431 came back up onto the beach, but then turned around to look out at the ocean.
Seal 070437 continued to splash around in the shallows, perhaps a little nervous about the size of the new pool he was entering.
Seal 070431 crept back into the water and 070437 gave him a thorough inspection.
The two seals faced one another and each seemed to gain a bit of reassurance from the other's presence.
Seal 070437 became adventurous and began to crawl away from the beach toward deeper water.
070431 followed closely behind his former poolmate as the two took their first uncontained swim.
Both seals dove, and 070437 resurfaced with a bit of eelgrass on his head. An eelgrass bed meant that fish were likely nearby. I had no doubt that both seals would be able to find a meal quite easily.
After one last look at his former captors, seal 070437 dove once again. 070431 followed his lead and the two seals reclaimed their birthright together.
As we left the beach, only the gulls and a passing Brown Pelican were visible. PAWS' role in the story of these two seals had ended, but back at the wildlife center a new patient had moved into their former pool.
Two days before the release of patients 070431 and 070437, another orphaned seal had arrived at PAWS. He was assigned the case number 071473, and he will undergo the same journey as the two seals who came before him. Some day, in the not too distant future, he will find himself on a beach taking his first tentative dip in a pool without walls.
Be Part of the Story!
The stories found in the pages of Wild Again are made possible by the support of caring individuals such as yourselves. PAWS relies heavily on both volunteer work and donations to perform this lifesaving work. Information on becoming a volunteer can be found on our website.
By the time you read this edition of Wild Again, it will be less than one month to PAWSwalk, one of our largest fundraisers of the year. PAWSwalk will take place on September 8 at Seattle's Magnuson Park. The PAWS staff and volunteer team has set an ambitious goal for themselves this year, hoping to raise more than $13,500. Whether you donate $1, $100 or $1,000, every amount will help bring us closer to meeting this goal. If you would like to help, please make a donation.
Every dollar raised at PAWSwalk helps us care for the thousands of animals that need our help each year, just like the seal pups above.
Thank you for your continued support!