Celebrating the wildlife releases of the PAWS Wildlife Center
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by Kevin Mack, PAWS Wildlife Naturalist
On a trip to the coast, I sat on a beach in Olympic National Park and watched the tide come in. It was a slow process, but not slow enough for one sleepy Harbor Seal that was resting on a rock about 100 yards from shore. As most Harbor Seals do, she had hauled herself out of the water at low tide to take a nap and bask in the sun. For several hours she had lain there, surrounded by warmth and dryness, but now the waters around her refuge were rising. Her serenity was soon to be intruded upon by an irresistible liquid alarm clock, but not before she hit the seal version of the "snooze button".
A wave lapped against the seal's face, and she did not look pleased. Her eyes partially opened, and they were full of the same sleepiness I see staring back at me from the mirror when I get up early for work. She closed her eyes again, and had several minutes of peace as the water continued to rise. Eventually, the water had crept so far up the rock that the dry area was not large enough to hold an entire seal.
This male Wood Duck, suffering from a suspected gunshot wound, is currently recovering at PAWS.
I felt many emotions while watching the seal (sympathy, empathy, amusement), but I was left with a slightly uneasy feeling as she finally sunk beneath the surface. I realized that whether I am at the ocean or not, I see events similar to this one on a daily basis. I see animals clinging to rocks as the tide rises around them; however, these animals are not simply annoyed, as the seal was by the seawater. They are stressed, confused, perhaps even terrified as the tide engulfs their rock. The "rocks" that I speak of are habitat, and we are the "tide".
I am amazed at how quickly the landscape changes here in Washington State. I have seen dozens upon dozens of small suburban woodlots disappear literally overnight. Usually, a large, white "Proposed Land Use Action" sign heralds the impending destruction. But the animals that live on these islands of habitat can neither read the signs nor comment on the pending land use plans. I recall driving along Highway 525 the day after a long, narrow swath of trees was cleared to make way for an extra two lanes of pavement.
PAWS recently received 34 emaciated Northern Fulmars. Hundreds of dead and dying fulmars have been washing up on beaches from Washington to California. The cause of the die-off remains a mystery.
I think that this acknowledgment of personal responsibility is extremely important. It would have been easy to become angry at some external entity (developers, government, etc.) when I saw the porcupine lying in the road, but ignoring my own role would have been a great disservice to that animal. Deflecting blame might create a clearer conscience, but it also creates a feeling of powerlessness that does not inspire action. When it comes to habitat destruction, we all play a part. Our collective choices and activities create the demand for habitat to be cleared. If we drive a lot, we will (among many, many other things) fuel the demand for wider roads. If we choose to have manicured, grassy lawns, we will fuel the demand for developers to remove native plants to fulfill this perceived want. There are likely very few choices in our daily lives that cannot be directly or indirectly connected to habitat destruction or degradation. Acknowledgment of these connections is the first step in accepting the role that each of us plays in the bigger picture.
An incoming ocean tide does not begin with a massive wave; it begins when a single water molecule feels the pull of gravity and moves towards it. Others follow suit until billions of molecules are moving together in the same direction, and before you know it the beach is covered. An outgoing tide begins in exactly the same way. This concept also applies to the human tide, except for the fact that each "molecule" in the human ocean can decide for itself which direction it wants to go. There is power in that. You get to decide, with every choice that you make, whether you will help the tide rise, fall, or stay the same. It truly is up to you…
Wildlife Release tally: October 22nd to November 11th, 2003
Wildlife Release tally: 2003
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