Turning the Tide column: Coastal seal rescues

Fri, 05/31/2019 - 6:15am

In a recent article from Hakai magazine, “Reassessing Seal Rescue,” questions and actions are spurred on the topic of seal rescues: Should the seal be rescued, handled by experts, or just left alone? The article shares a coastal perspective from the Netherlands, and the historical account of seal rescues and rehabilitation in the Dutch environment.

On the Dutch coast of the Wadden Sea, a young pup named Streya, who, at a week old, was found alone on the beach and was snatched by concerned beachgoers. She was taken to a seal sanctuary in a remote village, where an animal rescue team offered assistance to the pup. At the center, the staff “would have preferred to observe her on the beach to ensure that her mother hadn’t just left to grab a quick meal, a common behavior among harbor seal mothers.” Because the pup was taken at only a week old, she would have to be hand-fed and observed until she reached her independence at the center.

“Pup-napping,” as coined in the article, is a common incident in the Netherlands, where any member of the public is legally allowed to take a seal in stress into their care for up to 12 hours, eventually handing the seal pup over to a rehabilitation or rescue center. While seal rescue is permitted among beachgoers in the Netherlands, Dutch rehabilitation centers such as Ecomare and Sealcentre Pieterburen, are determined to make removing seals from the beach illegal.

The Netherlands has a historical relationship with seals, dating back to a time period of local seal hunting, leading to protective measures in 1962, and to our present day, where seal rescue awareness has expanded through campaigns and rehabilitation centers. With this immense focus on seal rescues, the Dutch communities have helped to positively raise the seal population: “500 harbor seals in 1980 boomed to 9,000 in 2016, while gray seals, entirely absent from the Netherlands in 1980, reached more than 5,000 in 2016.”

While Dutch communities have increased the recovery levels and the number of seals, many Dutch rescue centers are concerned with keeping the seals wild and in their natural state, and how the effects of human intervention and interruption on a seal can change its natural habitat patterns.

On the coasts of Block Island, seal species are a diverse population — harbor, gray, harp, and hooded seals can be found spotted in Cormorant Cove, behind St. Andrew Parish Center, at the sandy beaches in town and at the North Light. The majority of these seals have been identified as juveniles, which makes them more vulnerable and approachable for curious beachgoers.

The source for marine mammal assistance on Block Island is Mystic Aquarium and their resourceful Animal Rescue Clinic. Mystic Aquarium’s Animal Rescue Clinic is a popular and well-known marine mammal rehabilitation center, specializing in caring for and rehabilitating stranded seals; they have rescued seals along New England’s coast since 1975. Being a leader in seal rescues and care, Mystic Aquarium’s Animal Rescue Clinic states the steps to follow if one stumbles upon a marine mammal:

Call Mystic Aquarium’s 24-hour hotline: 860.572.5955, ext. 107

Do not touch the animal

Give the animal plenty of space

Keep pets away from the animal

Do not pour water on the animal, feed it or attempt to help it in any way

Be observant and note if the animal has any physical signs of injury or distress

To learn more about the Netherland’s history in seal rescues, or to read the article “Reassessing Seal Rescue”, head over to www.hakaimagazine.com. Hakai magazine shares articles on science, societies and the environment through a coastal perspectiv