It is often difficult to know the circumstances that cause a particular young animal to be taken and admitted to PAWS Wildlife Center. Perhaps their mother turns left as they turn right, perhaps they get surprised by a predator, or maybe they are just born a bit smaller than their siblings. Whatever the case may be, we see a lot of babies at PAWS Wildlife Center, and in the early morning hours of August 15, we were introduced to an emaciated female seal pup who was assigned patient #11-2225.
Seal #11-2225 entered the PAWS wildlife facility weighing 16 pounds when she should have weighed 30 to 40 pounds. She was severely dehydrated, with a large infected area on her neck and multiple puncture wounds on her front and back flippers. She made it through the first critical 24 hours and then through the next 24 hours, gaining a bit of weight and becoming stronger. We teach the young animals as best we can to forage and hunt, although likely not as well as their own mothers or fathers might have in the wild. We would like to think that, in the weeks before her admission to PAWS, this pup swam with and learned from her mother in Puget Sound, with the brilliant stars in the sky. We would like to think these things, but we do not really know. What we do know is that she deserved a second chance.
Seal #11-2225 was released in late January on a brisk, brilliant Northwest day. She was fitted with a satellite transmitter that tracked her movements, and hundreds of people logged on daily to see where she was swimming. Her adventures included trips down to Olympia and even a weeklong foray up and around the San Juan Islands, but on March 27, her satellite transmission failed.
On April 1, a scuba diver found her body entangled in abandoned fishing line off the Edmonds fishing pier in 50 feet of water. When fishermen’s nets and monofilament line get caught on the ocean floor, they are cut and remain there as hazards. Crab pot buoy lines get cut, and the pots are abandoned. Abandoned fishing gear is estimated to kill hundreds of marine mammals, thousands of birds, and hundreds of thousands of marine animals every year in Puget Sound. Many of these birds, ducks and seals end up here at PAWS.
We cannot know with certainty that we are releasing these animals to an absolutely safe place. We scour maps for the safest and most ecologically appropriate locations in our forests and mountains and oceans.
[Editor’s note: For more information about the dangers of derelict fishing gear and how you can help, visit DerelictGear.org. This is the homepage for Northwest Straits, a local non-profit group committed to making Northwest waters safe for all.]
This pile of lost or discarded fishing gear was removed from local waters, where it was a deadly obstacle for countless marine animals.