A string of coincidences led a team of marine mammal biologists to be in the right place at the right time to rescue an entangled seal pup in Washington state.
On a wet and windy day in January, Shawn Larson, Seattle Aquarium’s senior conservation research manager, almost called off a research trip she and three other marine biologist were taking to Sand Point beach on the Olympic Peninsula, due to the weather. Since two other members of the party had already set out, she had decided to carry on with the trip, according to the aquarium.
When Larson, along with Veronica Padulla, Seattle Aquarium’s research scientist for clean seas; Brittany Blades, Oregon Coast Aquarium’s curator of marine mammals; and Ashley Griffin-Stence, Senior Mammologist with Oregon Coast Aquarium, arrived at the beach, the four women heard distressed cries.
When they began searching for the source, they found a young northern fur seal pup.
“In my 22 years of doing this work, I’ve never seen a northern fur seal pup on the beach,” Larson said on the Seattle Aquarium website.
They called the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) West Coast Marine Mammal Stranding Network to report the seal pup, but knew it would take quite some time for the team to arrive.
Since all four women are marine mammal biologists with experience handling and rehabilitating entangled seals, they requested and were granted permission from NOAA to disentangle the pup.
“This time of year, no one goes down there,” says Larson. “No one else would have known what to do in that situation.”
Larson then used a pair of scissors in her kit to cut a loop of elastic from around the animals neck, while Blades and Griffin-Stence held the pup still.
“If we hadn’t been able to remove the elastic, the animal likely would have died,” Larson said. “He was already starting to look a little lean, an indication that he wasn’t able to eat well, and the material could have also restricted his breathing.”
After the elastic was cut, the animal headed into the water.