On Wednesday, September 9th, 2015 the National Marine Life Center’s staff, volunteers, and interns were joined by a crowd of about 500 supporters to send three seal patients back into the wild. Harbor seals Basil, Juniper, and Sea Salt checked out of rehab at about 6p.m. and were transported to Scusset Beach State Reservation to swim off into the sunset. It may have been the first real ocean swim ever for Basil and Juniper, who both came into NMLC as maternally dependent pups only a few days old. Basil was collected from Deer Isle, Maine by College of the Atlantic, Allied Whale on May 25th, 2015. Juniper, who was also collected by College of the Atlantic, was found in Perry, Maine and brought to NMLC on June 4th, 2015. These two pups were likely abandoned or separated from their mothers before learning how to swim.
Sea Salt, who was collected by the International Fund for Animal Welfare on July 6th, 2015 with a broken jaw and missing teeth, was released back to the same beach he was found on! He was a weanling when admitted to NMLC, meaning he was living independently and foraging on his own. His stranding made for an eventful day at NMLC as he was found just hours before Cilantro, our grey seal patient, was being released in the same spot. Because Sea Salt already had a few weeks of ocean experience under his belt, his kennel was placed in the middle for the release in hopes that Basil and Juniper would follow his lead. However once the kennel doors were opened, Sea Salt and Juniper bolted home to the Atlantic with little hesitation. They bobbed in the water for a few minutes enjoying their giant new home.
Despite being the biggest pup of the summer, Basil needed some extra encouragement to join his friends in the water. After cautiously exiting his kennel, he slowly scooted down the beach to get a taste of ocean life. He turned back and gave the crowd one more look at his adorable face before slipping under the water. Sea Salt and Juniper, who were still in the area, also went under water, leaving the crowd anxiously waiting for them to surface again. After a few minutes, all three seals popped up together, followed by a sigh of relief from the crowd as Basil had found his friends. The three seals bobbed in the water for a few minutes before swimming off together for a second chance at life.
Rehabilitating a maternally dependent pup is a challenge. It essentially involves taking on the role of their mother, without the pup realizing it. Getting Basil and Juniper to be the independent and heavy seals that they are today took many hours of dedication from staff, volunteers, and interns. From being tube fed six times a day, to endless hours of fish school, raising a seal is no walk in the park. All of this must be done without creating a relationship with the animal. It is very important to their survival in the wild that they do not become habituated with humans. If you were not able to make it to this release, there will be a few more coming up! Rue and Sage, who were also admitted as maternally dependent pups, will be released at Scusset Beach within the next few weeks. Chamomile, another weanling, will likely be released in New Hampshire soon. Check the NMLC website or Facebook page periodically for release information!
Posted by Emma S.
Emma is a Summer, 2015 Intern at the National Marine Life Center. She is going into her senior year at Roger Williams University, where she is majoring in Environmental Science with a minor in Sustainability.