For everyone involved, this rescue was a home run.
Karen Higginbotham was walking to work early Wednesday morning when she heard a startling sound.
“I heard this like, a bleating animal, a crying or scared or in-pain animal,” said Higginbotham, a vice-principal at Craigflower Elementary School.
The cries seemed to be coming from Helmcken Centennial Park in View Royal and as she changed course to investigate, she assumed she’d be encountering an animal in distress.
“I assumed it was going to be a Canada goose that ran into the fence,” she said. But it turned out to be something far less likely.
“I walked back and got right to the baseball stop, put on my flashlight because it was pitch-dark, and there was a seal there. I was like, ‘wow.'”
The seal was right behind home plate — nearly 500 metres from the nearest body of water — and Higginbotham said the animal appeared to be in distress.
“It was kind of wedged up against the fence, so it was stuck. It was one degree, it was probably cold, and scared and a bit dehydrated.”
So she called the closest emergency crew closest to her — the View Royal Fire Department. And, as it turns out, an animal rescue organization.
A crew that included Fire Chief Paul Hurst arrived shortly after Higginbotham’s call and immediately went to work, laying out a tarp and positioning the seal on top of it to carry it back to the nearest body of water.
“It must’ve taken him all night to get to where he got to. He ended up behind home plate in the ball diamond. He was just exhausted. There was no fight left in this guy,” said Hurst. “He would’ve died there, he was so far from the water.”
The crew released the seal, which Hurst estimated was about 250 pounds, into a small estuary behind the park, and it happily swam away.
“As soon as we opened up the tarp he could smell the ocean and he got pretty excited, and went down the hill and through the wetland,” he said.
The seal rescue was a first for the View Royal Fire Department.
“It was one of those things, you just don’t get those feel-good calls,” said Hurst. “It just seems in the last two years everything’s been pretty gloomy and this was one of those calls where you go ‘right on, this was a win.'”
Higginbotham said she arrived at her school and told students about the rescue operation, and it’s now turning into a lesson for the kids at Craigflower Elemetnary.
“I think the thing that’s really neat is it turned into this big excitement at school. My class is writing a thank-you letter to View Royal Fire,” she said.
“Everyone needs a happy story right now and I guess part of it is, maybe just take the time to stop and do something.”
If you see a marine mammal in distress you are urged to call local authorities as well as the BC Marine Mammal response hotline at 1-800-465-4336.