Howland’s Release on Scusset Beach is a Success

On Tuesday, June 4th, at 6pm, the sun lit up the sky beautifully, a light pink dusk lurking in the midst. Cars piled into the parking lot of Scusset Beach, with the noticeable royal blue t-shirts of the NMLC staff scattered throughout, informing the crowd of Howland’s incredible progress over the past six weeks and what to expect in the moments leading up to the release.

Volunteers carry the crate used to transport Howland.
Photo Credit: Ramsey Botelho — at Scusset Beach.
Reunited with the sea.
Photo Credit: Ramsey Botelho

Howland, a grey seal, was rescued from Round Hill Beach in South Dartmouth on Thursday April 4, 2013 in cooperation with the IFAW Marine Mammal Rescue Team. Upon arrival at NMLC, he was

immediately placed on fluid and antibiotic treatments, slowly improving as he gained ability to eat on his own. Initially facing unstable glucose levels, multiple parasites, and a case of seal lice and intestinal worms. After over a month in rehabilitation, Howland almost doubled his body weight and shed his parasites.The excitement was palpable to witness another success story from NMLC, the last being at the same location this past January when Major Margaret “Hotlips” Houlihan, the first animal to be directly admitted into the NMLC’s new marine animal hospital building, was released. “Hotlips”, who was severely dehydrated, emaciated and suffering from severely infected facial wounds during her admittance, set off into the ocean that January morning, embodying the hard work and care of NMLC.

Being at my first seal release was exciting, to say the least. Although I have only been apart of the NMLC family for two weeks, the friendly atmosphere and unified passion for wildlife care is warm and inviting. Everybody is here for the same cause: to help these animals and sustain the diversity of such rare creatures. Such a shared goal quickly unites people, in that the animals need us first and foremost. All of the interns, including myself, have developed a connection with our patients. The care and husbandry required for these animals to improve requires dedication. It begins to feel like these animals are one of your own, although, it is a beautiful balance here at NMLC of an innate understanding that these animals are wild, and we are simply here to gauge their re-entrance into their natural environment.

At 6:00pm, the crowd gathered at the entrance of Scusset Beach. At least 50 people, volunteers and onlookers of all ages, stood waiting for the man of the hour to arrive. Anxious and excited, the NMLC van slowly pulled in, carrying Mr. Howland himself! Kate Shaffer, NMLC Animal Care & Facilities Coordinator, gathered the crowd and assigned volunteers positions: carriers, crowder  board holders (boards which help the seal to move in the correct direction) and photographers. After a moment of organization, we headed off down the lengthy wooden pathway leading to Scusset Beach. The crowd stood behind a setup of caution tape to allow room for Howland, while myself, other interns and volunteers, lined the path with crowder boards. Four volunteers slowly carried Howland in his carrier down the beach, giving onlookers one last look before he would rejoin the ocean once again.

Kate Shaffer spoke to the onlookers before the release, giving thanks for their support and shedding light onto the importance of marine life rehabilitation, Howland being a prime example.

Photo Credit: Kathy Zagzebski

Moments later, it was finally time. The carrier was placed in location, about 30 feet from the shore, giving Howland the opportunity to find the ocean instead of simply being placed there. The volunteers stood beside the carrier and opened the door. Howland paused for a moment, slowly emerging. Cameras flashed and cheers of excitement filled the air. He journeyed half way toward the shore, pausing now and then, presumably overwhelmed and excited as we all were. He stayed on the designated course and within minutes was in the water. He did it!

The moment in which Howland finally rejoined the ocean was touching. As someone who loves wildlife and hopes to spend my life helping them, witnessing an event like this resonated with me and gave me even more respect for what organizations like NMLC do for such animals. I was incredibly proud and honored to be an intern at that moment, being able to witness Howland grow and progress as he did. Although saying goodbye is difficult, it makes what we do here at NMLC worth it.

Kate Shaffer, poses with Howland before transporting him to Scusset beach for his release.
Photo Credit: Eva Schegulla

Howland braved the ocean like a champ. Slow at first, he seemed unsure, but ready nonetheless. As the NMLC team looked on, he swam up and down the coast, journeying further out as onlookers faded away. Before long, only a small bobbing head was apparent.

We wish Howland the best of luck and thank everyone for their support in this release.

For more photos of the release, check out our Facebook page at: