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The season for helping seals

Published March 31, 2011

From Jenn Dittmar and Amber White

Spring is here, and that means thoughts of warmer weather, the beach, and vacations are in the air! But here in the Animal Rescue program, spring is the season for seals. It's the time of year that seals, and other marine mammal species like whales and dolphins, can be found along the Mid-Atlantic shoreline.

As we've noted in past posts, these animals, although beautiful to see in our area, are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), and should be left to explore their natural environment without interruption. However, there are occasional circumstances in which a marine mammal is in distress, and is in need of medical care from trained veterinarians.

Already this year, we have received many reports of seal sightings in the region. Our staff and volunteers are specially trained to assess, monitor, and sometimes collect the animals if they are in need of rehabilitation.

In the past two weeks, we admitted two grey seals for rehabilitation. Rehabilitating wild animals can be difficult, as there is a need to minimize human contact. Our staff and volunteers work very hard to ensure the animals receive the best possible care while maintaining their natural behaviors and instincts.

On March 14, a young gray seal pup was admitted to our rehabilitation program. He was spotted on the beach in northern Ocean City, and our responders quickly evaluated his overall body condition and behavior. They reported that the animal appeared dehydrated, lethargic, and seemed to be coughing frequently. It quickly became apparent that the seal, later named Stewie, is still quite young. At the time, staff were unsure if he was even old enough to be eating and hunting for food on his own.

Once admitted for rehab and stabilized, staff tried various techniques to encourage his natural food hunting instincts. Those instincts quickly kicked in and he is currently eating 7 pounds of fish per day! He has shown improvements in his health and spends time swimming in his rehab pool.

On March 17, the National Aquarium Animal Rescue team received a call from North Carolina asking if we had room to admit an additional gray seal for rehabilitation. Their staff had been monitoring a juvenile gray seal for several days, and noted that the animal was emaciated, dehydrated, and had grown increasingly lethargic over two days.

The seal was initially transported to the Virginia Aquarium’s rehabilitation facility for triage and some much-needed fluids. On March 18, the National Aquarium Animal Rescue team, in conjunction with the Virginia Aquarium Stranding Program and the MERR Institute in Delaware, transported the animal to Baltimore.

Appropriately named Guinness, as he stranded on St. Patrick’s Day, the seal was immediately provided triage and supportive care. Upon examination by our veterinary staff, it was determined that Guinness was suffering from pneumonia, a moderate jaw fracture, and an upper respiratory infection. Guinness is responding well to treatment and is currently eating more than 12 pounds of fish per day!

Both seals continue to do well, and we are looking forward to keeping you informed on their progress while they are in rehabilitation with us at the National Aquarium.

In addition to these two seals, we are still caring for the 11 sea turtles that came to us in December from the New England Aquarium. Caring for these animals is very costly. If you'd like to contribute to their care and feeding, you can make a donation online, or donate $5 right from your mobile phone by texting ACT to 20222.

A one-time donation of $5 will be added to your mobile phone bill or deducted from your prepaid balance. All donations must be authorized by the account holder. All charges are billed by and payable to your mobile service provider. Service is available on most carriers. Donations are collected for the benefit of the National Aquarium by the Mobile Giving Foundation and subject to the terms found at Messaging & Data Rates May Apply. You can unsubscribe at any time by texting STOP to 20222; text HELP to 20222 for help.

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