Sep 18, 2015 4:28 PM
RYE - Experts don’t know why, but the number of stranded harbor seals along New Hampshire’s seacoast has more than doubled since last year.
Sadly, few of the stranded seals can be saved by human intervention because they are already too sick by the time they’re found.
“It’s a matter of when you get to them and how far gone they are before you pick them up and bring them to rehab. Sometimes they’re too far gone on the beach and the most humane thing is to euthanize them,” said Ashley Stokes of the Seacoast Science Center in Rye.
As federally protected mammals, only officials from the Seacoast Science Center are allowed to approach and handle the stranded animals. They urge beachgoers to call the Marine Mammal Rescue Team Hotline at 603-997-9448 if they come across a seal or other stranded marine mammal on the beach.
Harbor seals too ill or severely dehydrated to survive, are picked up by the rescue workers and transported to the National Marine Life Center in Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts. This is where seals and sea turtles receive medical attention and rehabilitation.
Nearly 100 seals have stranded on New Hampshire’s seacoast this year and only a few have been well enough to send to Buzzards Bay for treatment. So far, only one of those seals has survived -- Chammie. Eight weeks ago, the weanling became stranded on North Beach in Hampton.
“She had a number of wounds on her body. She had a swollen flipper and wounds inside her mouth,” said Kathy Zagzebski of the Marine Life Center. An ultrasound confirmed a life-threatening infection in her flipper and antibiotics were administered intravenously.
“The veterinarian was able to drain it and she felt much better,” said Zagzebski.
Like most rescued seals, Chammie was still nursing. Now rescue workers had to feed her three times a day. The formula is released through a long plastic tube inserted through her mouth and drained directly into her stomach. After a few weeks, fish is introduced and she must learn to dive and swallow real fish.
Rescued seal pups, separated too early from their mothers, are still learning how to swim. They start out in a dry pen. They’re introduced to splashing in a baby pool and then moved into a deeper pool as they learn to swim; a behavior modeled by other seals in the pool.
Taxpayer dollars, along with private donations cover the $3000 to $5000 treatment cost per seal. Once off antibiotics, able to dive for fish, and weighing at least fifty pounds, a veterinarian, with approval from NOAH, gives the go ahead to release harbor seals back into the ocean.
Chammie is slated to be the first successfully rescued NH seacoast harbor seal to be released back into New Hampshire waters. Her release could come as early as this weekend at Wallis Sands Beach in Rye.
“Her natural instinct will kick in. They need to find food and other seals to hang out with. She’s got good chances out there,” said Stokes.
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