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Harbor seal pup rescued near Haines faces long road to recovery

Seal harbor pup rescued from the waters near the Haines ferry terminal (Photo from Alaska...
Seal harbor pup rescued from the waters near the Haines ferry terminal (Photo from Alaska SeaLife Center, NOAA SA-AKR-2019-01)(KTUU)
Published: May. 12, 2020 at 7:50 AM AKDT
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A newborn harbor seal pup rescued in Haines has a long road to recovery, but is getting stronger according to animal health experts at Alaska SeaLife Center's Wildlife Response Program.

The female pup, found on May 3 by the Haines Animal Rescue Kennel near the ferry terminal in Haines, is believed to have been born prematurely, and is the smallest harbor seal pup the ASLC rescue program has taken in to date.

The pup is the second harbor seal the team attempted to rescue in the course of just over two days, according to ASLC. The first seal harbor passed away before arriving at the SeaLife Center.

The surviving pup weighed only 12 pounds when she arrived at ASLC in Seward, and had full lanugo — the soft fur on newborn pups common to ice seals, but rare for harbor seals to be born with.

“This​ may be the smallest harbor seal I have seen," said Director of Animal Health, Dr. Carrie Goertz, D.V.M. "Because of her size, lanugo, and various exam and diagnostic results, we believe she is only a few days old and premature.”

Seal harbor pup rescued from the waters near the Haines ferry terminal (Photo from Alaska SeaLife Center, NOAA SA-AKR-2019-01)

The seal pup's immune system is underdeveloped due to her premature birth, and while she had no signs of physical trauma on admission to the center, she displayed symptoms of respiratory and cardiovascular issues according to ASLC animal health experts.

SeaLife Center staff say that due to her fragile health when she was admitted, team members were concerned about her ability to make it through her first night at the SeaLife Center.

“Her situation is critical though she does seem to be getting stronger,” Wildlife Response Curator, Jane Belovarac said.

Dr. Goertz says COVID-19 has complicated ASLC's wildlife rescue efforts.

"It requires us to be more thoughtful and efficient when more than one person is needed to accomplish procedures," Goertz said. "We all wear masks, plan a lot in advance, and move apart as soon as possible.”

She says the SeaLife Center is assessing stranding events on a case-by-case basis to ensure staff safety, and encourages people to call first if they find a stranded marine animal in distress.

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