A field excursion along the Olympic Peninsula led by researchers from the Seattle Aquarium in Seattle, Wash., quickly turned into a life-saving mission.
Seattle Aquarium’s Senior Conservation Research Manager Shawn Larson was leading a sea otter observation excursion alongside Research Scientist for Clean Seas Program Veronica Padula. Curator of Marine Mammals Brittany Blades and Senior Mammologist Ashley Griffin-Stence from the Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport, Ore., were also participating in the fieldwork when they heard distressed cries nearby. Just up the beach was a young northern fur seal with material wrapped tightly around its neck.
“In my 22 years of doing this work, I’ve never seen a northern fur seal pup on the beach,” Dr. Shawn Larson said.
“You could tell that something was wrong with it,” Veronica Padula began. “It looked like it was struggling somehow.”
The team immediately jumped into action, following standard protocol and contacting the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) West Coast Marine Mammal Stranding Network. Typically, when a marine mammal is reported stranded or injured, a Network partner responds to assess the animal and determine the best course of action. However, this was an atypical situation. The team was in a remote location on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, and Network responders would take many hours to arrive on the scene.
Dr. Larson said the remoteness of the area wasn’t lost on her. “This time of year, no one goes down there. No one else would have known what to do in that situation.”
The team of marine mammal experts received authorization from NOAA officials to assist the fur seal. Dr. Larson used scissors from a first-aid kit to cut the restriction from around the fur seal’s neck, while Blades restrained its head and Griffin-Stence restrained its body.
The culprit was an elastic piece of cloth, similar to the wrist opening of a garden glove. Once the fur seal was released, it quickly made its way toward the water.
“It was that Northern fur seal’s lucky day,” said Blades, “to strand behind four marine mammal biologists specifically experienced with handling and rehabilitating entangled fur seals.”
Northern fur seals are listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as vulnerable and are found along the north Pacific Ocean. This species spends most of its time at sea, coming to land only for the summer breeding season or if injured or ill.
Photo Credit: © Oregon Coast Aquarium
Edited by Sarah Gilsoul, a writer and communications program assistant at AZA
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