How does a seal fly?
On Monday afternoon, a harbor seal named Heli wobbled tentatively from her crate before plunging into the water off False Outer Point.
The journey took place under the eyes of a crowd of schoolchildren and their parents, ending a long road to rehabilitation for the pup, estimated to have been born in July.
“This is a really exciting day,” said Halley Werner, marine mammal stranding coordinator for the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward. “It’s a great story.”
Werner traveled to Juneau with the pup, supervising her voyage in air cargo from the Seward center that nursed her back to life.
“This is relatively frequent,” said Tara Reimer, president and CEO of the SeaLife Center, which gets between six and 12 harbor seals every year.
“It’s the most common animal that we get in,” she said.
This particular seal pup was found in late July, injured and malnourished on a Douglas Island beach.
Aleria Jensen, marine mammal stranding coordinator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association in Juneau, said NOAA staffers took the animal to Juneau International Airport for its flight to Anchorage and treatment in Seward.
“She was dehydrated, which is very, very common,” Reimer said.
The pup also had a broken jaw, a case of pneumonia, a case of intestinal parasites, puncture wounds on her face, and she was underweight.
According to Werner and a log kept by SeaLife staff, the pup — now named Helicoprion (a prehistoric shark on display at the SeaLife Center this summer) — was dewormed, had her wounds cleaned and was fed a fish formula.
She regained her strength through swimming — first in a warm pool, then in a salt-water one — and graduated from the formula to herring and salmon.
The last status report in the online log, dated Sept. 25, stated: “This seal is looking great … she continues to gain weight and is a very healthy seal.”
Harbor seals are not endangered or threatened, but Reimer said it’s important for the SeaLife Center to rehabilitate the animals because the process exposes their biology and physiology. Heli was tagged with a radio transmitter, and the SeaLife Center will be able to track her progress as she grows in her new home.
“It’s great that it benefits the animal,” she said, “but the knowledge gain is much, much wider.”
REPORT STRANDED ANIMALS
To report a stranded animal — whale, seal or something else — call the Alaska Marine Mammal Stranding Hotline at 1-877-925-7773. “If you see an animal that you’re concerned about, take photos from a distance and call first,” Reimer said.