Two harbor seal pups that were rehabilitated by a Des Moines-based marine rescue organization were released into the Oak Harbor Bay at the city marina Monday morning.
The pups, males named Aioli and Salt, were both around 3 months old at the time of release and had spent most of their lives up to that point in the care of the rescue group after being separated from their mothers. The group, SeaLife Response, Rehabilitation and Research, or SR3, is a marine wildlife conservation organization that helps rescue and rehabilitate stranded marine mammals in the Puget Sound area.
According to SR3 rescue and response program manager James Powell, Aioli was rescued from the Port Ludlow area on June 19, and Center Valley Rescue provided overnight care. Aioli was transferred to SR3 the following day. He was estimated to be less than a week old at the time of rescue.
Days later, Salt was found on a busy beach near Bellingham, and the Whatcom Humane Society provided stabilizing care until he could be transferred to SR3. Powell said Salt was a couple of weeks old at the time of rescue.
In the early weeks of a young seal’s life, he should weigh around 15 kilograms, Powell said. When these pups arrived in SR3’s care, however, Aioli weighed only seven kilograms, and Salt was eight kilograms — just half of what they should weigh.
Both seals were malnourished and dehydrated and found without their mothers. Powell said there are several reasons why a mother might abandon or become separated from a pup who should be nursing — usually interference from a human, an off-leash dog or a natural predator. Sometimes the mother will wait nearby and return to her pup, but once a full tide cycle has passed without nursing, it may be time for rescue personnel to step in.
Aioli and Salt spent more than 80 days recovering in the care of SR3. Each seal was on a personalized rehabilitation plan that included hands-on care, medications, vitamins, fluids and lots of fishy meals, according to a press release from the organization. They were released back into the wild from the Oak Harbor Marina Sept. 18.
Powell said Oak Harbor was chosen as the release location for its relative peacefulness; while SR3 and other wildlife conservation groups try to release rehabilitated animals as close as possible to the locations where they were stranded, busy or urban areas don’t always make the best homes for recently recovered animals, especially young pups like Aioli and Salt who have spent almost no time in their natural environment.
It is better for marine mammals to be released into areas with lower vessel traffic and human impact, such as the Oak Harbor area.
“We try to find places that are a little more secluded, a little more protected and sheltered,” Powell said.
Veterinary nurse and SR3 Executive Director Casey Mclean said that rescuing marine mammals gives valuable insight into the health of local waters.
“It’s also a reminder of our responsibility to minimize human impact and our desire to have a healthy Salish Sea for all of us,” she said.
Powell encouraged area residents to keep their distance from marine mammals and other wildlife they may encounter on Puget Sound beaches, as approaching the wildlife could have drastic consequences for their wellbeing. He said people should stay at least 50 to 100 yards away from seals and other wildlife.