Seal pup rescue season is off to a busy start for the Mystic Aquarium’s Animal Rescue Program. Since late January, the Animal Rescue Clinic has already admitted two seal patients in need of rehabilitation.
Each year, Mystic Aquarium responds to more than a hundred reports of stranded marine mammals and sea turtles along 1,000 miles of shoreline in Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Fishers Island New York. Although the Clinic is open year-round, its busiest time is during the seal pupping season, which typically occurs from December to March.
The Clinic’s first patients of 2023
On January 24, the Animal Rescue Program responded to a call about an abandoned gray seal pup on Nantucket Island. The pup appeared to be about 5-6 weeks old. Although she was responsive, she was also severely underweight. At her age, a weanling gray seal pup typically weighs between 50 to 100 pounds. This pup weighed just over 27 pounds. She was also found to have pneumonia and is being treated with antibiotics. Since she was admitted to the Clinic, she’s been doing great. She’s eating, gaining weight, and is feisty and energetic. If her rehabilitation continues to go well, the recuse team anticipates a release for her in the near future.
The second patient is a male harp seal, approximately one year old. He was spotted January 28 on Gooseberry Island, Massachusetts. He was thin and malnourished, and appeared to be dehydrated. The International Fund for Animal Welfare team stayed onsite to monitor him. When they noticed his breathing becoming labored, he was transferred to Mystic Aquarium’s Animal Rescue Clinic. He was admitted for rehabilitation on January 31, and received a full exam, bloodwork, and radiographs upon his arrival. After running multiple diagnostics, the veterinary and animal care teams determined that the seal is fighting an infection and possible gastrointestinal bleeding. He is now receiving around the clock care. While his prognosis is guarded, the rescue and animal care teams are doing everything possible to help him recover. They remain hopeful that he can turn the corner and get back to good health.
What does Rehabilitation look like?
“Rehabilitation is different for every animal,” said Sarah Callan, manager of the Animal Rescue Program. “The course of action we take and the timeline for release is dependent on the condition of the animal when it arrives and how it responds to treatment. With each animal, we first focus on getting it healthy – treating any wounds, giving medication for infection. And then we make sure it is eating well, at a healthy weight, and is ready to survive on its own. Once that happens, we make a plan for release.”
There are some common features of rehabilitation at the ARC. When an animal is first admitted, it receives a comprehensive physical exam, including drawing blood, listening to its heart and lungs, an examination of any physical injuries, and an evaluation of the animal’s overall physical condition. The team also takes x-rays to see if there are internal issues, such as pneumonia or internal injuries.
The animal is then admitted to one of the care units. Most animals are initially place in the critical care unit, where they receive the most intense level of treatment. As they recover, they are moved to the intermediate care unit, and then go to the pre-release pool. At all times, the rescue team minimizes the face-to-face interactions they have with the animals. This helps prevent the animal from getting habituated to people, which could compromise its ability to be successfully released.
What should you do?
If you see a seal on the beach, do not approach it. Maintain at least 150 feet between you and the seal –this is the safest action for both you and the animal. Even if the animal appears dead, stay away. Some diseases can transfer to you or your pets. Instead of approaching the animal, call the animal rescue hotline and leave a message. The hotline is active 24 hours a day. Animal Rescue staff will respond and may dispatch trained first responders to monitor the health of the animal or collect any sick or injured animal in need of medical attention. Just because an animal is on land, that does not mean it is injured or in distress.
“It’s important to know that it is normal for seals in our area to spend some time on land,” said Callan. “Seeing a seal on shore is not necessarily a cause for concern. Seals will often haul out for multiple days at a time and do not need to eat every day or be wet. Of course, in some cases, the animals haul out because they are sick or injured. It’s not always obvious if an animal is on shore because it needs help or if it’s just engaging in normal behavior.”
If you see a dead or alive marine mammal or sea turtle on land, call Mystic Aquarium’s 24-hour hotline at 860-572-5955 ext. 107.
You can help the Animal Rescue programs by becoming a trained first responder. As a first responder, you may be dispatched to various types of marine mammal and sea turtle responses that may include live animal monitoring, data collection, and public outreach. Mystic Aquarium accepts applications for this volunteer position in late summer/early fall. If you would like to be notified when the applications become available or if you would like more information about the program, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.