Shades of Grey Seal


This spring has been filled with many shades of grey in the National Marine Life Center’s marine animal hospital. Grey seals that is. Our staff and volunteers have been working tirelessly to care for six different grey seal cases. Grey seals are known in the hospital for their feisty personalities so with the 2015 herbs and spices naming theme, we have decided to attach some spicy names to these animals, and many of them have lived up to their titles.


PEPPER: The first grey of the season was a tiny pup who was dubbed Pepper. Unfortunately Pepper’s story doesn’t have a happy ending, but he was close to the hearts of many of our staff and volunteers. One of the tough lessons to learn in the marine animal hospital is that we can’t always save every animal that passes through our doors, but we can always learn something from them, and provide them with the best care possible. Pepper was rescued by our friends at the International Fund for Animal Welfare on Sandy Neck Beach in Barnstable, MA on February 25, 2015 due to an ear infection. Pepper was still a dependent pup when he was picked up, meaning he was not yet eating fish and would not have survived if left in the wild without intervention. At his first vet exam Pepper was diagnosed with Middle Ear Disease. Middle ear disease cases are always difficult and often don’t end well, but even with a less than ideal prognosis we were determined to do our best for Pepper. We later took him to the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute for a CT scan and learned that he did not have osteomyelitis (meaning the infection had not yet effected the bone) and so it was decided that we would manage the case without surgical intervention.

Pepper during his CT scan at WHOI

Peppers ear disease treatments were progressing at a normal pace, but we were having a very difficult time transitioning Pepper to eating fish.  Pepper was beginning to lose weight, and if he couldn’t learn to eat fish on his own, Pepper would not be a releasable animal! After calling on some colleagues considered experts in seal rehabilitation field, and with a lot of experience weaning grey seal pups to eat fish, it was diagnosed as behavioral response to the fish. For some reason Pepper had decided fish were negative, and now it would be our job to convince him otherwise. To build consistency only certain staff members were allowed to work with Pepper, and through the day he has “fish school” every few hours. Pepper was finally starting to make some progress after about a week of this special attention. Unfortunately a few days later Pepper passed away overnight. We will likely never know what happened to Pepper, maybe the infection in the ear traveled to other parts of his body, or maybe there was another underlying problem for which his mother abandoned him in the first place. The results of his necropsy sampling may give us a few clues, but we may never know the whole story. For many of our volunteers this year, Pepper was the first, grey seal, or the first pup that they ever worked with. Pepper taught us many lessons and we appreciate that we had the opportunity to work with him.

Sassafras during her admit exam on March 19th.

SASSAFRAS: Sassy was the 2nd grey seal admitted this season, unlike Pepper she was not a dependent pup, in fact by the time she was released she tipped the scale as the largest animal ever rehabilitated at NMLC. Sassafras was also rescued by the International Fund for Animal Welfare and was collected from Nauset Beach in Orleans, MA on March 19, 2015.  One of the first things we noticed about Sassafras was that she was tagged. Sassafras had a blue plastic tag attached to her rear flipper much like the ones we attached to our animals prior to release so that they can be identified if spotted in the wild.

Sassafras's Tag
Sassafras’s Tag

This was a blue tag that read S7259. After contacting the tag database created and maintained by the The North West Atlantic Seal Consortium we were able to learn some information about our newest patient.  Sassafrass was tagged Canada in December of 2014 by a group of researchers. Unfortunately the tag was applied backwards and was causing a small infected wound to form on her flipper. We began treating this wound along with her heavy parasitic infections and she quickly began to improve.

Sassafras going home!
Sassafras going home!

In total Sassafras was only in rehabilitation for approximately a month before she was approved for release by our veterinarian. As the largest seal in our facility she came with some challenges but overall was a pretty easy in and out case with no difficult complications. On April 18, 2015 at 3:30pm Sassafras was returned to the ocean at Scusset Beach in Sandwich, MA with a crowd of almost 300 spectators to cheer her on.


WASABI- Our 3rd grey seal, Wasabi, a juvenile male was admitted on March 18, 2015. He was rescued from Nobadeer Beach on Nantucket due to a case of human interaction. Wasabi had been entangled in fishing gear. A few days prior to his arrival at NMLC Wasabi was spotted by Massachusetts Environmental Police with the gear still wrapped around and cutting into his neck. The MEP officers disentangled him, removing the line, but Wasabi didn’t swim away unscathed as they had hoped. After a few days Wasabi was still hanging around on the beach and NOAA decided he was in need of further treatment and required rehabilitation. So, Wasabi was transported to the mainland by Ferry and picked up on the dock by NMLC staff.

Wasabi's healing entanglement wound
Wasabi’s healing entanglement wound

During his vet exam in addition to the deep laceration around his neck, it was noticed that one of his rear flippers was swollen to more than double its normal size.  Wasabi had an abscess that needed to be drained, and he was in need of antibiotic treatment to stop the infection.  Wasabi has been in our hospital for several weeks now; his neck wound is almost completely healed, though he will bear the scar from this fisheries interaction for the rest of his life. His white blood cell count has been gradually decreasing the flipper abscess is resolving. We expect Wasabi to be given vet approval for release in a few weeks, so stay tuned.

CAYENNE- Our next juvenile grey seal, named Cayenne didn’t look

Cayenne's facial injuries were beginning to heal
Cayenne’s facial injuries were beginning to heal

much like a seal when she arrived on April 13, 2015. She was rescued by the International Fund For Animal Welfare because she had been attacked by another animal and her face was completely mutilated by the wounds and associated swelling. Due to the immense amount of swelling on her face it was difficult to examine the full extent of her wounds. We will never know for sure what attacked Cayenne but the wounds were from an animal that possessed canine teeth, not a shark. The likely suspects are coyotes, a domestic dog, or another seal. She was started on pain medication, anti-inflammatory medications, and antibiotics immediately.   After just a couple days the swelling on her face began to go down, and the true extent of the trauma began to be exposed. There were two major wounds that we needed to focus on in addition to getting her enough nutrients to sustain herself. She had a large wound on the lower right side of her jaw, and a hole that opened into her nasal passageway. Because of the opening into her nasal passageway we could not give her access to water. After about an additional week of cleaning and flushing these wounds they had begun to heal and close. We were getting very hopeful that she would start eating fish and be able to gain water access soon. Then one day Cayenne took a turn for the worse. We entered the hospital on May 4, 2015 and Cayenne was almost unresponsive. We checked her glucose and it was a very low 36, for the entire day and late into the night we worked tirelessly to keep Cayenne going and keep her blood sugar up. She was receiving fluids and dextrose (special sugar) through an IV, but we could not stabilize her glucose and it kept dropping. On Tuesday May 5, 2015 out vet was onsite for veterinary rounds and examined Cayenne. It was determined that there was nothing more we could do to help Cayenne, the infection from her wounds had likely gone septic (entered into her blood stream). Cayenne was truly suffering and we had to make the difficult decision to humanely euthanize her. Later in the day a necropsy was performed by the NMLC staff and veterinarian, where two hidden abscesses as well as a very heavy parasite load were discovered including large amounts of lung worms. Because of the severity of her wounds we were not able to stabilize her enough to treat for parasites in the two weeks she was at NMLC. We are hoping the results of the histopathology testing will tell us more.

Cilantro and his brand
Cilantro and his brand

CILANTRO- This juvenile grey seal came to us from South Beach in Chatham, MA on May 2, 2015 and was also rescued by the International Fund for Animal Welfare. Cilantro came in with a very unique infected wound on his back. This animal was actually heat branded by researchers, a common practice in Canada. The wound from the brand had become very infected and was in need of medical attention. Cilantro was also having some difficulty breathing and had developed a small abscess in one of his rear flippers. He has been receiving medical treatment, was tube fed for about a week, and we are working to get him


transitioned to fish so he can move into the large rehabilitation pool with Wasabi.

We have sent a culture from his wound to be analyzed to see what type of bacteria might be causing the infection. He has been diagnosed with a lung worm infection and we have started treatment to help rid him of these parasites! Cilantro has a lot of spunk and is giving our volunteers some wonderful experience with seal restraining. We hope that Cilantro will make a full recovery so he can be returned to the wild soon.

Thyme compressed

THYME- Just when we thought we  had see the end of the grey seals for awhile, having admitted our first harbor seal pup of the season yesterday, we met Thyme this afternoon. Thyme is a female juvenile grey seal rescued from Hampton Beach in New Hampshire by the Seacoast Science Center. Thyme is suffering from severe alopecia (hairloss), she is lethargic, and dehydrated, and we are anxious for her vet exam in the morning so we can try and determine the cause of her distress.

So you can see, we have had many shades of grey seal cases this spring from the happy endings to the sad ones, from the easy cases, to the complicated, and from pups to the largest animal ever housed in our hospital.  It has been a very busy spring, and will likely be an even busier summer harbor seal pup season has started ! If you would like to support the rehabilitation of our seal patients please click here to make a tax deductible donation, or purchase a gift from our Amazon Smile Wish list, or register to run or walk in the Feet Fins & Flipper 5K. The seals and the staff thank you for your continued support!