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Money needed to save seal pups orphaned on Washington shores

Rescued harbor seal explores his rehab pool

Megatron, a juvenile harbor seal, splashes around his rehabilitation pool at the National Aquarium in Baltimore. He was recently rescued from Bethany Beach, Delaware.
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Megatron, a juvenile harbor seal, splashes around his rehabilitation pool at the National Aquarium in Baltimore. He was recently rescued from Bethany Beach, Delaware.

A nonprofit that responds to calls about marine mammals in trouble is raising money to help harbor seal pups abandoned by their mothers.

The Whatcom Marine Mammal Stranding Network has a short-term goal of raising $4,000 quickly, scrambling to put things in place before the birthing season for seals begins.

Most seal pups are born in June and July in this region, although some have been born as early as May and as late as September.

It’s stepping in after Wolf Hollow Wildlife Rehabilitation Center announced that it won’t be be providing rehabilitation for marine mammals in 2016 for a number of reasons, with the main one being the loss of a federal grant provided through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. (The center was among 15 organizations that didn’t get funding from the $2.7 million grant program, which was limited.)

Seal rehabilitation is strictly regulated, time-consuming and costs about $3,000 a pup. The center said it has cared for an average of 22 seals a year for the past 30 years.

When I heard Wolf Hollow was not taking pups, I just shuddered. This is a real dilemma for us.

Victoria Souze, principal investigator, Whatcom Marine Mammal Stranding Network

Based in Friday Harbor, Wolf Hollow was where seal pups rescued by San Juan and Whatcom stranding networks were sent for rehabilitation. It also was just one of two in Washington state to provide such services; the other is PAWS Wildlife Center in Lynnwood, and its capacity is limited.

“There are more pups than room for sure,” said Alysha Elsby, who is on the board of the Whatcom Marine Mammal Stranding Network.

Wolf Hollow officials said they will try to get the marine mammals program going again in 2017, but Whatcom Marine Mammal Stranding Network representatives are concerned about this year.

“When I heard Wolf Hollow was not taking pups, I just shuddered,” said Victoria Souze, principal investigator with the network. “This is a real dilemma for us.”

So Whatcom Marine Mammal Stranding Network is trying to help.

In addition to asking for money on the GoFundMe website, the network also is seeking a 24-hour hold permit from NOAA, so it can take the pups off the beach, provide some triage and then send them for rehabilitation if needed.

Calls about stranded seal pups have increased in recent years, according to the network.

People see pups alone onshore and think they’ve been orphaned when they’ve actually hauled themselves out of the water to rest or warm up while their mothers are away foraging for food.

If people get too close to her pup and if they stick around, the mother seal likely won’t come back.

Last year, the network responded to reports of 15 live pups, and 10 were transferred for rehabilitation, according to Elsby. The year before, four were sent to rehabilitation.

Touching, feeding or moving seal pups is considered harassment under federal and state law.

If given the permit from NOAA, the network will work with Whatcom Humane Society, which has made some improvements to its small Wildlife Rehabilitation Center near Nugents Corner to take in a limited number of seal pups for a short period of time, according to Laura Clark, executive director for the humane society.

The society’s Wildlife Rehabilitation Center already works closely with the Whatcom Marine Mammal Stranding Network, Clark said, and several of the humane society’s staff and volunteers have completed training to be able to safely rescue and appropriately handle injured or orphaned seal pups.

The $4,000 the Whatcom Marine Mammal Stranding Network is asking for will be used to replenish its depleted bank account. The organization already has spent the money to cover the cost of fencing and construction materials.

If NOAA grants the permit, more money will be needed to cover costs for staffing, supplies and food to care for seal pups.

Kie Relyea: 360-715-2234, @kierelyea

How to help

Whatcom Marine Mammal Stranding Network is raising money to help harbor seal pups abandoned by their mothers. Donate by going online to gofundme.com/savingseals. The initial request is for $4,000, but the nonprofit said it expected to need more money later. Stay updated on its efforts by going to its Facebook page and its website at wmmsn.org.

If you see a seal pup or other marine mammal you think might need help, the best thing to do is stay at least 100 yards back and call the Whatcom Humane Society’s Wildlife Rehabilitation Center at 360-966-8845.

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