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Coupeville cop stops car, finds seal pup

The 14-pound seal pup investigates visitors while recuperating Friday afternoon at Best Friend’s Veterinary Center in Oak Harbor. - Nathan Whalen / Whidbey News-Times
The 14-pound seal pup investigates visitors while recuperating Friday afternoon at Best Friend’s Veterinary Center in Oak Harbor.
— image credit: Nathan Whalen / Whidbey News-Times

First she was picked up by a sailor, then she was stopped by a cop as she was riding inside a stranger’s car.

How does a young seal explain that to her mother?

Hopefully, some day the pup will find her mother. But right now she’s just lucky to be alive as she awaits a new home far from where she was born.

On Friday, the 5-day-old seal pup gazed around, gleaming eyes wide and intelligent. Her whiskers twitched with curiosity. But her silky gray, spotted body was in a place it didn’t belong: on a table at the Best Friend’s Veterinary Center.

The harbor seal was brought onboard a sailboat by a Race Week sailor around midnight last Wednesday and kept onboard for more than a day, according to Island County Animal Control Officer Carol Barnes. The seal ended up in someone’s car.

Deputy Robert Mirabal stopped the vehicle for running a stop sign. In the backseat, he saw what looked like a stuffed animal, until it started moving around, according to Coupeville Town Marshal David Penrod. Mirabal called Animal Control.

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is currently investigating the case, said Penrod.

“She’s really dehydrated,” said Erica Syring, D.V.M. at Best Friend’s Veterinary Center, Friday, as she held the 32-inch-long seal pup steady on the table. Soy milk and fish oil were on the way for the hungry pup.

Syring said the 14.7-pound female seal didn’t appear to be injured.

“We don’t know where she came from at all. Normally, we’d send her back to the beach,” Syring said. However, the sailor who picked the seal up couldn’t remember where he had found her.

Syring feared that they would have to put the pup down. She wouldn’t be able to survive in the wild without knowing how to fish and hunt, which her mother would have taught her. Also, the seal had been at risk for diseases on the sailboat and at the vet clinic. It’s dangerous to release her into the wild and allow diseases to spread to the entire population, according to Syring.

In the end, the seal pup was sent to Wolf Hollow, the only place that can help her. Wolf Hollow is a wildlife rehabilitation clinic on San Juan Island. Her blood sample results are due back in a few days. The results will show if anything is wrong with her that rehabilitators couldn’t check out physically.

In approximately three months, Wolf Hollow staff plans to release the seal pup back into the wild.

“That’s our goal, always to release the animal back into the wild,” said staff rehabilitator Penny Harner.

The seal’s mother would have weaned her and taught her how to fish, but Wolf Hollow staff will instead. Not only must she learn how to fish, but also how to eat her catch. The seal can’t be released until she weighs approximately 50 pounds.

“The moral of the story is that they need to be left alone,” Syring said of young seals.

Pia Carruth, a veterinary technician, volunteers for Island County Marine Mammal Stranding Network. She said to call the organization immediately upon seeing a stranded seal. The group will put up signs to ensure that nobody touches the animal or comes within 100 feet of the animal. That way, its mother can come back and care for it.

To report a marine mammal stranding, call 679-7391, 678-3451, 678-3765, or 1-866-ORCANET. In the case of an emergency or public safety situation and none of these numbers can be reached, call the Washington State Patrol.

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