Caring for Stranded Marine Animals
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Patient Update: July 8th, 2020

A lot has changed since our last patient update at NMLC! We have entered harbor seal pup season, and have received 9 new admits since the last patient update, as well as completed 4 exciting releases. Our patients you may have heard about in previous patient updates have progressed and grown significantly, but our new admits have been working hard to keep up with their pace. 

Owl’s Head has notably grown since our last update in May, when he had just lost his lanugo coat! He now receives whole fish for every meal and has been packing on the pounds. Owl has been experiencing slight tremors recently, which may be associated with stress or a neurological condition. He is currently being treated to reduce his tremors as our staff actively tries to track the cause. 

Owl enjoying swim time

Remember Bird from our previous update? She has now completely lost her white lanugo coat and has fully transitioned to eating whole fish for every meal! Bird is an adept swimmer, and is able to haul out whenever she might want a break from swimming. This past week, Bird was moved to one of our large pools with her roommate, Plum. Plum arrived at NMLC on May 16th and has been learning alongside Bird. They both have mastered tong-feeding, which allows them to position whole fish in their mouth on their own once they learn the technique. This is a skill that seal pups would learn in the wild by observing other seals. Since they are in our care, animal care staff must help them so they are ready to hunt fish on their own once released. Plum has progressed to mass feeding in the large pool, which means that animal care staff is no longer needed to help her insert the fish into her mouth in the correct position. Bird is still actively learning this technique, bringing both Bird and Plum one step closer to their releases!

Bird and Plum together

Cleveland has also shed his lanugo coat since first arriving and has fully switched over to eating whole fish. Since his arrival, he’s gained about 3 kg, almost 7 lbs! While he’s still getting the hang of positioning the fish on his own so he can eat it, he’s made a lot of progress and is loving swim time with his roommates, Seguin, Montauk, and Bug. 

Cleveland in Pup Room

Bug and Montauk were both rescued by Marine Mammals of Maine (MMoME) and arrived at NMLC on May 27th. Both were admitted as pups due to maternal separation and human interaction, and they have lived together since! They made the transition to eating whole fish around the same time and enjoy tracking live minnows during their swim time. Bug has shown signs of being a little snappy as he’s grown; this not only reminds us that our patients are wild animals, but also that we don’t want them habituating to human presence. These types of behaviors suggest that our patients are not losing these innate reactions. Both Bug and Montauk are able to haul out of their pool, which shows us that they are building up strength. Their next step would be to transition from being hand-fed to mass feedings, so they could have more water access and prepare to be released! 

Bug in his Pod

Montauk checking out the camera

Seguin is another new harbor seal pup living with Cleveland, Bug, and Montauk. She has progressed to eating whole fish since her arrival on May 21st. Seguin was initially admitted due to maternal separation and malnourishment. Now, she is able to track live fish as they swim, which means she is interested in catching fish, but may not know exactly how to eat them on her own. Animal care staff has continued to work with her to help teach her how to swallow fish as she enjoys chomping on the fish, which makes it more difficult for her to swallow. She continues to make progress and is one step closer to mass feeding like Plum. 

Seguin on the haul out

Ned, who was just recently admitted at our last patient update, has made immense progress with his new roommate, Monomoy, another male harbor seal pup! Ned has been moved to a new enclosure with Monomoy so he can have more water access, learn how to eat fish during mass feeds, and build up more strength as he hauls out of the deeper pool. Ned has begun to master air fish, which is part of a technique that we call ‘fish school’. With this technique, we pique the seal’s interest by injecting air into the fish to make it float on the water’s surface and therefore make it easier for the seal to find the fish. He has also succeeded during his mass feeds; although he sometimes gets distracted by Monomoy during his feeds, he will often still eat fish that have sunk to the bottom of the pool. This behavior shows that he is able to retrieve and position the fish in his mouth independently, and could be soon ready to join a large pool!

Ned in his previous enclosure, Pup Room

His roommate, Monomoy, is still getting used to mass feedings, and prefers to be tong fed. We hope that living with Ned will help progress him! Monomoy was brought to NMLC on May 21st after being picked up by a member of the public; although this person was likely trying to help Monomoy, possibly believing that he had been abandoned by his mother, this action may have separated Monomoy from his mother. Maternal seals will often leave their pup hauled out or in the water near them while they hunt for fish. If you see a seal pup alone, it does not necessarily mean that they have been abandoned. If the mother is nearby and notices humans interacting with her pup, she may choose to abandon it. Remember, it is illegal to ‘take’ marine mammals according to the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972. This includes any harassment, feeding, or attempts to push them back into the water. For that reason, you should always stay at least 150 ft away from marine mammals. 

Monomoy showing off a bit

Wings Neck, or Wings, is another recent admit, and was brought to NMLC on June 2nd by MMoME. She was initially admitted for maternal separation, malnourishment, swollen flippers, dehydration, and human interaction. Wings has recently been introduced to eating whole fish and is learning quickly. She loves swim time and often nibbles on her hind flippers as she spins in circles, a bit like a dog chasing its tail! Wings recently moved to a new enclosure with a slightly deeper pool, allowing her to have more access to water. She lives with Prudence, another female harbor seal pup who was brought to NMLC on June 9th after stranding in Westport Island, ME. Prudence has made a lot of progress since arriving; when she was admitted, she was very small and weighed 9.6 kg (around 20 lbs).  She has been closely monitored, as she has regurgitated or vomited some of her feeds. However, this previous week was a big week for her! Her transfer to the new enclosure with Wings is a great sign that she is ready to build more strength with longer swim times. She also had two ‘firsts’ this week: she was able to haul out of her pool and she ate a whole fish during a feeding! We are excited for her to transition from our ‘fish smoothies’ to eating whole fish, and hope she continues to learn from Wings.

Wings in her enclosure

Prudence after being rescued by MMoME

One of our most recent arrivals, Thacher Island, or Thacher, is our first harbor seal weanling of the season. Weanlings are seals that have become independent of their mother and are able to hunt for fish on their own. He was rescued by Seacoast Science Center from Plum Island Point, MA, and was brought to NMLC on June 27th. He was found malnourished, dehydrated, with an infected umbilicus and on a busy beach with numerous people in the area. He has recently moved in with Owl, and we are hoping that having his company will help Thacher in his rehabilitation process. 

Thacher soon after his arrival

Our newest arrival, Derby, arrived at NMLC on June 30th after being rescued by Seacoast Science Center. Derby requires extra precautions and care, as he was admitted with Seal Pox and multiple bite marks on his head and all along his body down to his hind flippers. Seal Pox is a contagious virus that causes circular lesions and raised bumps around a seal’s body. Although there is not a cure, it is crucial to prevent any other secondary infections. We continue to closely monitor Derby’s condition to provide the best possible care through his rehabilitation process. 

 

Derby in his enclosure. The small raised spots on his chest, back, and head are Seal Pox

Quoddy, our last grey seal of the spring, was finally moved to one of our pre-release pools and learned how to eat fish on his own. Growing in both confidence and his size, he was released on June 9th on Nantucket, where he had originally stranded! This was a historic release, as Quoddy was the first seal to be rescued on Nantucket and then returned to Nantucket after rehabilitation on the mainland.

Quoddy during his release on Nantucket

We have a lot of exciting news about our Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles, too! Pascal, Compass, and Milo were flown to Georgia for their release on June 2nd. We are hoping that by releasing them farther south, they will be able to avoid cold waters once the seasons change. Currently, we are caring for just one Kemp’s Ridley, Tutis. Tutis came to NMLC in November 2019 cold stunned and suffering from osteolysis. He is still being treated for osteolysis, a condition often accompanying cold stun which causes bone resorption. With attentive care, we hope that Tutis will soon be ready for release!

Pascal, Milo, and Compass getting ready to be released

One of the turtles during their release in Georgia

Our current Kemp’s Ridley, Tutis, eating squid

Although the world has been put on hold in many ways as a result of Covid-19, NMLC has continued to put forward its best possible care and rehabilitation for its now 1 turtle and 13 seal patients, with limited staff, volunteers, and interns. Thank you so much for all of your continued support! Stay tuned for more updates on our patients in the weeks to come, and keep up with us on Instagram, Tik Tok, and Facebook @nationalmarinelifecenter ! 

Posted by Bradlie M.

Bradlie is a summer intern who recently graduated from Boston College with a degree in Biology. 

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