Ike Takes Flight (so to speak)

harbor seal

The end of summer is approaching. The first thing that comes to mind is, where did the time go?! Didn’t I just arrive here at NMLC to embark on a summer journey that would ultimately teach me so much, not only about marine mammals and conservation, but about myself and my career goals?

My last event as an NMLC intern took place this past cloudy Sunday. It was bittersweet ending, as it was time to send our harbor seal pup, Ike (Incus), back to sea.

Ike, also known as Incus, is a male harbor seal pup that stranded May 16 on Granite Point in Biddeford, Maine. He was rescued by the Marine Mammals of Maine and received initial treatment from the University of New England’s Marine Animal Rehabilitation Center. He was transferred to the National Marine Life Center on June 24 because of an ear discharge and possible middle ear disease. Upon arrival, Ike was diagnosed with a fungal infection of the outer ear which

Ike making his way to the water.
Ike making his way to the water.

is a much less serious condition that can be treated by medicine and that does not require surgery. Ike successfully completed antibiotic treatment and remained at NMLC until putting on the proper weight to be released. He was transferred here with another harbor seal pup, Mike (Malleus), who is in fact suffering from middle ear disease. Although seals are primarily individualistic animals, these two shared a playful bond that everyone here witnessed, and couldn’t help but bring a smile to our faces.

The other five interns and I certainly had a special place in our hearts for Mike and Ike. With their dog like faces, adorable squeals and relatively sweet temperament (for seals), these pups we’re our very own babies. We witnessed their admit day, their adjustment to NMLC, their movement from small pods to larger pools, their treatments and their growth. Just as we did, they joined us at NMLC, embarking on a journey that would change their lives as well.

As a wildlife rehabilitation facility, it is crucial to make the distinction that these animals are indeed wild and must remain wild. However, it would be a lie to tell you that saying goodbye to that sweet, big eyed face, is easy. The moment these animals return to the ocean makes it all worthwhile and evokes a sense of deep-seeded clarity into why this work is needed and why it is incredibly rewarding.

I was lucky enough to be one of the individuals carrying Ike to the beach and see him off. He was rather calm, obviously a bit confused, but nonetheless, seemingly ready. I think I speak for the majority of the NMLC volunteers in saying that this particular release  made us all feel like worried parents, seeing off our child to college, a new, unknown world where we will no longer be able to keep them safe. Being a young pup when he stranded, the water, although his natural environment, is something relatively unknown to Ike. As his carrier opened at 6pm, he slowly waddled out, a ray of sun bursting through the clouds as he navigated his way to the ocean. He paused at times and looked around, not a gust of wind in the air and an open ocean ahead of him. After a few moments he descended face first into a small wave, swimming into shallow depths, testing the water. He maneuvered up and down the coast line, close to shore. He came back on shore for a moment, then headed down the coast of Scusset Beach. A small group of NMLC volunteers looked on, seeing this pup off on his next journey.

Just as Ike progressed, I know my time here, and the other interns’ time here, inspired personal growth among us all. Saying goodbye to this pup was the perfect summer send-off, bringing all of our journeys full circle.

A huge thank you to NMLC for all you do and all you will do in the future.


Allison & Ike 🙂