The Oregon Coast Aquarium successfully released the young northern fur seal injured by entanglement in a plastic string. Aquarium staff and Jim Rice, Stranding Coordinator for the Oregon Marine Mammal Stranding Network (OMMSN) brought the pup to Quarry Cove in the Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area for the release. Excitement and anticipation filled the air as the seal tentatively peered out of its carrier before heading toward the water. He drifted in the protected surf for a while, clearly at ease, while he groomed his fur and swam around. Staff cheered when he crossed the wave-break back into the open ocean.
“We came down to this location because the protection from the surf provided a chance to for him to swim in a controlled space with open ocean access. The tide is coming in, which will make his passage back out much easier,” explained Oregon Coast Aquarium Director of Animal Husbandry, Jim Burke. ” If things didn’t go well, we could restrain him and bring him back in. That being said, the response here was as good as we could have asked for. We are very optimistic—we wouldn’t have released him if we weren’t.”
A NOAA Fisheries officer found the entangled pup in an RV parking lot in Winchester Bay on Monday morning. The string, possibly from a balloon or plastic twine, cut through the seal’s skin around its neck and abdomen. Burke described that “the animal had been entangled for quite a long time. The string had been there as the animal grew, which constricted it and created a deep abrasion.”
Fortunately, an initial medical exam revealed that the abrasion was superficial and would likely heal on its own. Thus, after removing the entanglement and administering antibiotics and fluids for three days, the priority was to get the animal back into the wild safely. “He was feisty, and his body condition was fairly strong,” said Burke. “These animals are pelagic species that are used to catching their prey. This animal has probably never eaten a dead fish, let alone had one handed to him. The best option for the pup to regain strength is to get him back out in the ocean eating on his own again.”
Likely born in the Pribilof Islands of the Bering Sea in early summer, this male northern fur seal would have been weaned from its mother in early fall. By this time of year, it has spent multiple months at sea on its own. Stranding Coordinator for the OMMSN, Jim Rice, explained that these animals, and other seals and sea lions, are not usually rehabilitated as a matter of policy.
“Most seals and sea lions in Oregon are from abundant populations. In most cases, it is felt that the best policy is to let nature takes its course,” said Rice. “This is a unique situation because this animal is from a species that is not typically found on the Oregon coast and was impacted by human activities.” The Oregon Coast Aquarium rehabilitation policy is also the rescue and rehabilitation of indigenous wildlife when deemed injured by human interference.
If you find a seal or sea lion pup on the beach, the Aquarium advises the public to obey marine mammal protection laws and let nature take its course. Observers can also call the Oregon Marine Mammal Stranding Network Hotline [541-270-6830] if concerned.
Information and photos provided by Oregon Coast Aquarium