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PAWS Mailing Address:
PO Box 1037
Lynnwood WA, 98046

PAWS Street Address:
15305 44th Ave W
Lynnwood, WA 98037

                                                                                                  June 1, 2005
Kevin Mack

Homing Seal
by Kevin Mack, PAWS Wildlife Naturalist

On May 16, I was standing on the lowered bow of a landing craft boat just north of Jetty Island in Everett. To my right sat a large pet carrier, the front of which was positioned at the edge of the lowered bow about 2 inches above water level. I opened the carrier door and a shuffling noise came from within. I watched as the furry, gray head of a young harbor seal emerged. With eyes wide and whiskers twitching, the seal paused at the front of the carrier to gather more information about his new surroundings. His nostrils opened and closed rapidly, and his head scanned left and right. He was exhibiting a level of excitement and alertness that I had never seen in him during his month of captivity at PAWS. As he continued to assess the meaning of what his senses were telling him, I continued to observe him, and I felt as if the animal that was about to exit the carrier was much different than the one that I had put in.

Seal 05-0357 rests on a haulout in his pool at
The seal had arrived at PAWS on April 18th, but he had spent several days prior to that hanging out on a West Seattle beach. An observant beachfront property owner suspected that the animal was sick after seeing him in the exact same spot three days in a row. The property owner contacted Seattle Animal Control, and an agent was dispatched to investigate. After determining that the seal was in need of help, the Animal Control Officer got permission from the National Marine Fisheries Service(NMFS) to bring him to the PAWS Wildlife Center. He was admitted as case #05-0357.

Upon admission, seal 05-0357 was in fairly good body condition for a yearling seal, but he did have several issues that required attention. He had a large, infected abrasion on his abdomen, and his lungs were somewhat congested. He was also suffering from bloody diarrhea, and his hind flippers were covered with tiny ticks. Despite these problems, the seal was bright and alert, and as the control officer that delivered him noted, "He still had some fight left in him."

His face wet from dunking it in the
water, the seal looks out of his carrier.
Blood and stool test results showed that the seal was infected with multiple types of bacteria. He was prescribed antibiotics and responded well to treatment. The most likely cause for his pulmonary congestion was believed to be lungworms. He was treated with anti-parasitic medications and his congestion improved, and then disappeared. After his most pressing health concerns had been dealt with, the seal was washed with anti-parasitic shampoo to remove the ticks from his hind flippers. By the time I loaded him into a carrier on May 18th, the only thing indicating that the seal had ever been ill was a darkly pigmented, sparsely furred spot on his abdomen where the abrasion had been.

As I stood and waited for the seal to accept his freedom, the boat began to drift towards Jetty Island. At the boat's controls, Kraig Hansen of Everett City Parks and Recreation moved us slowly back out to deeper water. As the boat crept forward, the seal stuck his snout in the water and seemed excited by the feel of forward motion. He lifted his head, glanced up at me, and then dipped his snout again.
After the ramp was lowered, the seal exited
The boat came to a stop and the seal raised his head and continued to hold his position. Periodically he looked back over his right shoulder into the boat, before turning back to look at Puget Sound in front of him. I eventually got the feeling that, even though it was only a 2-inch drop to the water, he somehow didn't feel safe taking the plunge. Kraig remedied the situation by lowering the front of the boat a little more so that the carrier was sitting in about an inch of water. The seal exited immediately.

As the seal swam out of the carrier, he kept his head above water and continued to scan his surroundings. His body was now submerged, and the front of his face was wet from having dunked it in the water while the boat was moving. The top of his head remained dry. The dry fur on his head stood out in stark contrast to the sleek, wet fur of his face and body. From behind, he looked like a little person with a crew cut enjoying a swim in the sound. He eventually submerged, and resurfaced close to the island.
Seal 05-0357 shows off his new hairstyle.
After a quick inspection of the shoreline, he submerged again and resurfaced in deeper water. He swam to a nearby buoy, and after satisfying his curiosity about the object, he continued to work his way away from the boat and out of sight.

NMFS had recommended that I release the seal at Jetty Island due to the area's abundant seal haulouts, and limited human access. The West Seattle beach on which the animal had been found was often crowded with people and dogs, and a seal release would likely draw a (stressful) crowd of spectators in that area. No matter how much better NMFS and I may have believed Jetty Island would be for the seal, after release he was free to choose his own home. On May 23rd a NMFS agent emailed PAWS and other rehabilitators asking if any of us were familiar with a seal wearing a red flipper tag bearing the number 929. A seal with that tag number had been spotted on a West Seattle beach, but he entered the water and swam away when approached by humans. Seal 05-0357 had been released with one tag in each hind flipper. His right flipper bore a red tag with the number 813… and in his left flipper was red tag number 929.

Wild animals released between May 18th and May 31st, 2005:

1 Short-tailed Weasel
2 Eastern Cottontails
3 Dark-eyed Juncos
19 Eastern Gray Squirrels
1 Winter Wren
3 Bewick's Wrens
1 American Crow
1 Mallard
1 Virginia Opossum
3 Black Bears

126 wild animals have been released since the beginning of 2005.

      All rights reserved. 2005 Progressive Animal Welfare Society