Diamond, a 250-pound adult female ribbon seal, waits patiently in her cage at the Kenai Airport on Wednesday after being driven from Seward in a U-Haul. She was loaded aboard a U.S. Coast Guard HC-130 Hercules and flown to Cold Bay, roughly 150 miles east of Dutch Harbor, for release back to the wild following several weeks of rehabilitation at the Alaska SeaLife Center.
Photo by Joseph Robertia
A peculiar pinniped passenger made a brief stop in Kenai on Wednesday afternoon during a layover in her transportation from Seward to Cold Bay.
Diamond, a 250-pound adult female ribbon seal, was driven from Seward in a steel crate loaded into a U-Haul before being loaded aboard a U.S. Coast Guard HC-130 Hercules and flown to Cold Bay, roughly 150 miles east of Dutch Harbor, for release back to the wild following several weeks of rehabilitation at the Alaska SeaLife Center.
"She came to us about a month ago," said Tim Lebling, stranding coordinator/rehabilitation technician at the Alaska SeaLife Center.
Diamond was called in by Rebecca Knight of Wasilla, who discovered the seal in the Palmer Hayflats State Game Refuge in early October. SeaLife Center staff responded and with the help of Chris Abshire and Dave Hopper, with the Alaskans for Palmer Hay Flats, were able to bring the seal out to the road with an ATV.
"It's a mystery how she got there. She was about a quarter- to a half-mile inland," Lebling said.
The SeaLife Center staff's best guess is the seal went up the Knik Arm to end up in the Hay Flats, but as to the reason she was even in the Knik is a mystery, since ribbon seals are not known to frequent Cook Inlet.
"Ribbon seals general live in the Bering Sea, hanging out on sea ice, although they do on occasion come down to the Aleutians and the Gulf of Alaska," Lebling said.
In the wild, ribbon seals feed primarily on pollack, squid and crab, but SeaLife Center staff had a difficult time finding food to tempt Diamond's palate while waiting for her wound to heal.
"She didn't eat while with us and lost a little bit of weight because of it, but she's still in good body condition. Also, her blood values were normal and she moved her bowels, so she was still healthy despite not eating. Many marine species have such thick blubber and reserves that they can go for awhile without eating," Lebling said.
After it was deemed Diamond was healthy enough to be returned to the wild, Lebling said the SeaLife Center attached a satellite tag to her back in an effort to learn more about this little known species.
"We'll be able to monitor where and how far she goes for the next eight to nine months, or until she molts," he said referring to the process whereby a seal's hair is regrown by blood vessels reaching through their blubber.
As to how Diamond was expected to fair after he release, Lebling said he thought she would make the transition well.
"We maintained her wild. We monitored her through remote cameras, and she had very little human interaction. We didn't want to do anything to make her less wild, so I think she'll do great when she gets back to her own environment," he said.
To learn more about Diamond and her rehabilitation, visit the Alaska SeaLife Center's Web site at www.alaskasealife.org.
Joseph Robertia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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