A lot has been going on at NMLC lately, especially with the large number of seal patients that we’ve had! In the month of March, we’ve admitted 5 more seals, and also released 5!
On March 2nd, we finally said goodbye to our last Harry Potter seal, Helga Hufflepuff, along with Cape Pogue and Nubble (pictured in order below)! Helga wasted no time in bouncing her way back to the ocean, as this was her second release. To learn more, read our past patient update! Nubble hesitated at first, but then let out his famous Hooded seal roar before making moves to join Helga. Last but certainly not least was Cape Pogue, who was NMLC’s first patient of 2020. She took additional time to head back to the water, not because she wanted to stay with us, but because she was rescued at such a young age, she was not familiar with her natural surroundings. Pogue eventually got in the water and even was seen playing with some seaweed!
Brant, our grey seal pup that came to us with a very large neck wound, was released just a few weeks ago! Brant (pictured below) was released at Scusset Beach on March 14th. About a week later, we received a second hand report that Brant was seen hauled out on a beach in Scituate! Brant was identified by looking at his flipper tag: the white plastic #115 tag applied to his left flipper (left flipper for males, right for females) with NMLC’s info.
On March 9th, our friends at Marine Mammals of Maine brought us our first ever ADULT Harp seal patient! Weighing in at 84kg (185 lb) upon admit, Matinicus was the largest patient we’ve ever had in NMLC history! Matinicus was admitted primarily due to extreme lethargy and dehydration due to sand impaction. When Harp seals are extremely stressed, they often start eating sand and rocks, which they cannot always digest–leading to impaction or even fatality. This extreme stress is typically stemmed from two reasons:
- Harp seals are arctic species, and so it is normal for them to eat ice and snow for hydration. However, when visiting the sandy beaches of Cape Cod in the winter where there is not always snow available for them, they mistake snow for sand and eat that instead.
- Harp seals will eat rocks and sand when they are under high stress, such as being surrounded by people or dogs. This can be mistaken as the seal being hungry, when in fact it is a major stress response. If you ever see a seal, or any marine mammal stranded on the beach, please remember to keep back at least 150 ft, or the length of three school buses!
Marine Mammals are federally protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972. This law prohibits the “take” of marine mammals, which includes harassing, harming, shooting, hunting, collecting, etc.
During his short stay here, Matinicus (pictured below) enjoyed floating in his pool and eating the ice chunks and fishicles we provided for him. On March 25th, weighing in at 94 kg (206.8 lb), Matinicus was released at Sagamore Beach. Due to the COVID-19 outbreak and to also reduce the stress of Matinicus, our team released him in a safe and stress-free area from other people and animals to provide a smooth transition back to his ocean home!
Unfortunately this past month, we made an extremely difficult decision for our grey seal pup Butler that was rescued in Fairhaven. Though Butler showed promise of improvement when he learned to eat fish so quickly, he developed a case of seal pox: a zoonotic disease that can be fatal. Butler exhibited signs of intense pain, lethargy, lack of mobility, and inability of eating or processing food. Unfortunately, seal pox is something that does not have a cure. Though NMLC has successfully released animals with seal pox in the past, as it is something they can live with, Butler’s case was too severe. Rather than letting him suffer longer, the decision was made to humanely euthanize Butler.
Quoddy (pictured below) has been moved to Pod 1, and is still in the process of gaining weight and learning to eat fish on his own! Before our team leaves at the end of each day, we leave a whole fish for Quoddy and Boon overnight. In the morning if it is mashed, this tells us that they are showing interest in fish and trying to eat on their own! Mashing fish is a quality that is typical for grey seals. They often hold the fish in their mouth and use their flippers to tear the fish apart and mash it. Though they do have teeth, seals don’t chew–they swallow their fish whole!
Boon (pictured below) is still learning to eat fish and is now in Pod 2, where he is able to swim around and build up his strength! This week was particularly exciting for us, as we introduced live fish to Boon, and he showed interest by following them around his pool and eating some! Boon then immediately started mashing fish, where before he showed little interest. We are very excited by his progress, especially because it means one step closer to being released!
Over the past month, we admitted several new patients, starting with Nobska (pictured below). Nobska, a female grey seal pup, was rescued in Falmouth by our friends at IFAW Marine Mammal Rescue on February 22nd due to being extremely thin, labored breathing and a squinty eye. Nobska was a quick learner and was able to eat fish on her own in only a few days! Nobska is already in DJF with her new friend Woody, and she has gained nearly 10 kg (22 lb)!
Woody, a male juvenile grey seal, was rescued by our friends at Sea Coast Science Center on March 6th (pictured below). During initial assessment, this feisty boy’s health declined and became minimally responsive, along with nasal discharge and poor breathing patterns. Woody was another fast learner and was able to eat fish relatively quickly, which did not come to much of a surprise to us–Woody was larger (20.6 kg upon admit) and older than the rest of our grey seal patients, indicating he was already eating fish on his own before he came into our care. When patients are first admitted, we tube feed them with an Electrolyte solution for hydration, and progress to Fish gruel, aka a fish smoothie, until they are stable enough or physically able to eat fish on their own again. Woody is in DJF with Nobska, and they are eating all the Herring they can so that they’re able to be released soon! Stay tuned for more updates on Nobska and Woody.
Our second adult Harp seal came to us from our friends at Marine Mammals of Maine on March 18th. Curtis (pictured below) is slightly smaller than Matinicus; he weighed 65 kg (143 lb) upon admit. Curtis came to us with an ulcer in his eye, suffered from sand and clay impaction and was also very dehydrated. Curtis is very sensitive to noise and movement, so our team is extra cautious when caring for him. Harp seals have a very distinctive vocalization–click here to see a video! We often hear this from Curtis when interacting with him, as it’s his way to tell us to back away!
We still have our four Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle patients, Tutis, #44, Compass, and Milo. All four are still in ST2 and growing steadily! We are hopeful that they will be able to get sent off for release soon.
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Posted by Kim T.
Kim is an Animal Care Volunteer who recently graduated from Bridgewater State University with a degree in Biology.