savin' sea pups

September 10, 2018


Satisfyingly exhausted, that is how I feel every minute of every day. Excitement and anxiety are also felt regularly as I brace myself to learn one major responsibility after the next, every single shift. I am so happy, curious, interested and fulfilled that even bad days are good. While so much has happened in the past couple weeks I will give you the highlights. 


Wrigley officially has a seal sister, and her name is Sundae. Every day one intern or manager is scheduled to man the rescue phone, which is the number the public calls if they find a seal that appears to be in distress. My first 24 hour shift on the phone was stressful to say the least. After a day of silence I received a call around 8:30pm from a man concerned about a baby seal. He said that his family had noticed the seal alone for the majority of the day and was concerned that it looked underweight and could potentially be abandoned. He was also afraid that an organ was falling out of her stomach. I told the man that it was likely just the umbilical chord, but to send photos so that we could asses the seal and determine whether or not she was in need of rescuing. The photos proved that the baby was a new born as she had a fluffy white coat (or lanugo) and the umbi was indeed still attached. It was also clear that she was underweight and very small. After my manager decided that we did want to monitor the baby further, we contacted one of our amazing volunteers and she drove out to the beach and watched from afar for another hour or so. As it was now dark, the beach was empty, and there was no sign of mom we decided that the baby did in fact need to be transported to us.


Well it wasn't easy. The parking lot was an hour's walk from where the seal pup was found, and the pup did not want to cooperate. Feisty is an understatement. Thankfully another 6 volunteers stepped in and together they successfully managed to get the baby to us safely around midnight. By that point I was more exhausted than I can ever remember being. I had had pm shifts the two nights prior to this one, which meant that in addition to working with seals all day, I also went in for night shifts at 7pm and midnight and I was operating on a minimal amount of sleep. Thankfully all of this became insignificant when I peeked into her ICU to find her cuddled up to a blanket, suckling on her "fake mom." My heart melted. We completed Sundae's intake about half an hour later, and she has been doing well with us ever since. Oh, I named her Sundae because she was found on a Sunday and sundae's are delicious.


I have been on the rescue phone two times since. The second time I received two calls within five minutes of each other. One seal was entangled in a ring of plastic that was cutting off the circulation around his neck, suffocating him, (oh and he was on an island so my volunteer would need a boat in order to get to him), the other was trapped in a fish farm and the caller was concerned that he would be shot. Trying to handle both calls calmly was a challenge, but I managed to get a ferry man to take two volunteers to the first seal, and went with my team to handle the fish farm seal personally. Unfortunately the first seal was a full grown grey and too large for our volunteers to even lift (they can get up to 300 kilos, 650 pounds) but they did manage to cut the plastic off and we all hoped for the best. It was too dark to rescue our fish farm seal. After talking to the fish farmer, who assured us that no harm would come to the pup, we returned the next day and successfully retrieved him from the river, assessed his health, and released him to the ocean within the hour. It was truly an incredible experience and unlike anything I have ever witnessed before. We named this baby Trout, as he was rescued from a trout farm. The picture below is of Trout looking out to the ocean moments before his release.


Then there is my most recent rescue phone experience which resulted in a rescue and transport of a common seal pup who, one way or another, ended up loosing a large chunk of his face. He was found in Donegal, which is as far away from the rescue as you can get, and it took a total of 7 drivers and one overnight vet stay to get him to us, all of which was my responsibility to coordinate. While his intake did occur at a much more reasonable time, it was up to me to restrain and tube feed him. Nervous because he was clearly in a tremendous amount of pain, I managed to cautiously carry out both tasks and the volunteer vet is coming out today to see if there is anything else we can do for him. I'm thinking of naming this baby boy Doughnut.


On that note, assisting and learning to tube feed also happened over the past few weeks. Tube feeding is necessary because when a baby seal comes to us they have no idea how to eat fish - in the wild they would still be nursing on mom's milk. While marine mammal milk is an option that many opt for, it is too expensive and sensitive to be practical to use at our rescue. This means that we tube feed our infant seals the fish soup I told you about last time. Warmed to body temperature, this combination of electrolytes, vitamins, and human grade herring produces equally satisfying results.


When one "assists" in tubing it is their responsibility to hand the tube to the tuber, aid the tuber in gradually sliding the tube down the seal's esophagus, carefully watch for the seals breaths at various check-points, and finally attach the syringe of food to the tube and pump it into the seals stomach. No pressure. Once I had all that down, I was taught to tube which is a bit more hands-on. The first step in tubing is restraining the seal. You begin by standing above the seal, one leg on each side, and carefully kneel down so that you are straddling him or her, applying light pressure with your legs to keep them in place with the bulk of your weight resting on the balls of your feet. Once the seal is safely and comfortably restrained between your legs and your hands are placed around their muzzles, you have to persuade them to open their mouths (without allowing them to bite you) and sneak the tube to the back of their throats. The first time I attempted this I was petrified, but each time since has gradually increased my confidence. 


As you can probably tell it has been a crazy couple weeks with very little time for much outside my world of seals. I was lucky enough to explore Cork with a fellow intern and Galway with my best friend from home. I have no complaints, as tired as I may be, and I am so excited to learn whatever may be thrown at me next.




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