Vancouver, B.C. – The July 20th weekend saw two harbour seal pups arrive at the Marine Mammal Rescue Centre (MMRC) that would have been better off left “alone.”
That brings to nine the number of harbour seal pups since the end of June that have been subjected to human interference or marine mammal disturbance and reported to the MMRC, according to the assistant manager of the centre, Emily Johnson. Among the examples of inappropriate behaviour around these pups during that period were physically putting them in the water, feeding them such unnatural items as a smoked oyster, a chicken drumstick and cow’s milk, patting them on the head, hanging them upside down by their flippers to take pictures, and gathering around them in crowds and harassing them.
Johnson said that it’s not unusual to see a harbour seal pup on its own. “Unlike some other marine mammals, harbour seal mothers can’t sustain lactation unless they go out and forage,” she explained. “The mother might be absent for several hours, so it’s imperative that humans and pets leave them alone. It’s a perfectly natural situation and doesn’t mean the pups have been deserted or orphaned.”
The best thing a person who encounters a solo seal pup can do is “remain calm, quietly observe from a distance, prevent pets and other people from approaching and call the rescue centre to report its location,” said Johnson.
She explained that the trained staff and volunteers at MMRC will start a case file for each animal reported, collect important information, and will often request that pictures be sent so staff can review the pup’s body condition. “We want to make sure that every pup reported is indeed separated from its mom because we know that its best chance of survival is being raised by its mother.”
If there aren’t any obvious injuries and the pup’s body condition looks healthy, this can mean waiting 24 hours before responding, to be sure it is, in fact, maternally separated.
One recent instance of wrongful apprehension of a harbour seal pup occurred on Vancouver Island, where a woman called in to the wrong wildlife rescue centre to report an “orphaned” pup, and then, without waiting for a response, drove it to a local veterinary clinic and dropped it off. Another seal pup was “rescued” and taken home and put in a bathtub before the person who found it called the MMRC.
That’s why Johnson asks the public to respect the natural behaviours of B.C.’s marine wildlife. “Most cases of human interference are just by concerned citizens who mean well but let emotion drive them into making poor decisions. It’s hard not to become emotionally invested in an animal that you believe to be in distress. We just ask that people follow the proper steps, which include calling MMRC first before taking things into their own hands.”
The number for the Marine Mammal Rescue Centre is 604-258-SEAL (7325). The hotline for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, another good option, is 1-800-465-4336.
Although interacting with seals is not conducive to their wellbeing, members of the public are invited to symbolically “adopt” a seal pup at http://support.ocean.org/symbolicadopt. That helps fund ongoing rehabilitation efforts at the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue Centre. The Centre rescues, rehabilitates and releases about 150 animals each year. Most of them are harbour seals, but the veterinary team also provides medical treatment to elephant seals, sea otters, sea lions, whales, dolphins and porpoises. The team’s objective is always to release these wild animals into back into nature.
Vancouver Aquarium® Marine Mammal Rescue Centre
The Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue Centre, an Ocean Wise initiative, is a hospital for sick, injured or orphaned marine mammals. The Rescue Centre rescues stranded marine mammals and rehabilitates them for release back into their natural habitat. Donate to the Rescue Centre at www.vanaqua.org/donate.
Ocean Wise is a not-for-profit organization whose vision is a world in which oceans are healthy and flourishing. www.ocean.org
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