The big, dark eyes make seal pups appealing creatures. But nature is not sentimental, and life can be short and cruel for the baby animals coming into the world this time of year.
Tuesday, human intervention postponed one harbor seal's date with mortality.
Workers from the Drift River Oil Terminal found the starving female pup Monday night on a beach south of Drift River.
"When you see her, you could not pass her up without doing something," said Steve Letzring, who works for Cook Inlet Pipeline at the remote site on Cook Inlet's west side.
He and his co-worker David Keim were following bear tracks, then noticed that the bear had been circling as if looking for something. Searching the area they found the little seal above the high water mark. They think it may have washed up on the beach in the storms several days ago, Letzring said.
Helping wild animals
If you find a wild animal that seems to be in distress, do not pick it up. Often mother animals leave their young for prolonged periods as they forage for food, and interfering could harm the animal you intend to help. Handling wildlife also may violate laws.
Contact wildlife officials for instructions.
For marine mammals and birds, call the Alaska SeaLife Center's at (907) 224-6395 or the center's 24-hour security service at (907) 224-6342.
For land animals, call the Alaska Department of Fish and Game at 262-9368 or, after hours, the Alaska State Troopers at 262-4453. They will dispatch the proper people to respond.
They fetched Curtis Pennington, the crew member who has a reputation of being an animal person.
The three men tracked down the number and called the Alaska SeaLife Center, which has a hot line for stranded or injured marine mammals or birds, at about 11 p.m.
"We talked to a lady named Natalie who was really wonderful," Letzring said.
They did the right thing, said rehabilitation technician Tim Lebling. The center's staff advised them to leave the seal on the beach and keep an eye on it for six to 10 hours.
"We encourage people to observe them to be sure the mother is not around," he said.
In a contemporary twist, the men were able to transmit a digital photo of the pup to the center's staff.
About 3 a.m. the humans involved decided it was best to take the little critter into protective custody. Pennington, who was on night shift, baby-sat the animal for the rest of the night. Meanwhile the center made arrangements for transport.
Frontier Flying Service donated a space on a plane. Tuesday morning pilot Evan Veal flew to Drift River, picked up the seal and brought it back to Kenai.
At about 10:30 a.m. Lebling and an assistant rendezvoused with the seal at the Kenai airport. At the flying service office they gave it subcutaneous fluids and other first aid to stabilize it. About an hour later they drove it to the Seward center in their specialized van.
Although the tiny seal was alert and responsive, it was bony and lethargic. A healthy pup would be roly-poly and wriggling.
Lebling said a typical harbor seal pup weighs about 25 pounds at birth, but the foundling weighed 16 pounds, about the same as a large cat.
"This guy is definitely emaciated," he said.
Lebling said the next 48 hours will be crucial in determining if the animal will live or die. It was placed in an intensive care, quarantine area at the center. Caretakers will give it fluids to combat dehydration, formula to replace the rich milk of a mother seal and medical tests to check its health and screen it for potential contagious diseases.
Two other seal pups of this spring already are at the SeaLife Center. One is a ringed seal from the Kotzebue area and the other a harbor seal from Kodiak, Lebling said.
If all goes well, the pups will eat formula and eventually be weaned onto a diet of fish. In a couple months, a seal pup can catch fish on its own. At that point, the center plans to release them back into the wild, he said.
This year, Lebling added, the center has something new planned for its foster seals when they go free. Scientists will fasten satellite beacons on them that will feed signals to the Internet, so school children will be able to track the seals and follow their future adventures.
Tuesday evening Letzring and his colleagues were waiting for an update on the pup's condition.
"It's always an adventure in Drift River," he said. "We got her just in time."
Peninsula Clarion ©2013. All Rights Reserved.