The Rescue of Cassiopeia: Wounded Baby Gray Seal Found Off Cliff Walk in Newport RI
Call Comes in From Aquarium, Stranded Seal on Beach
My wife and I have been working as volunteers for the marine animal rescue program run out of Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut for several years. Generally, the process goes like this: We get a call from someone at the Aquarium who has been notified that some concerned person has spotted an animal on or near the beach. We proceed to go to the location and search for the critter. If we find it, and it is alive, we call the Aquarium which then initiates a group effort to capture the animal and examine it for care. If it is in need of care, the animal is returned to the Aquarium and care is given... Once the animal is fit, with great ceremony and school children invited, the animal is released back into nature... great stuff...
So that is how it happened this time: We received the call in the later afternoon, and I went to the Cliff Walk along the beach in Newport RI at the closest entrance to the coordinates I was given to search for and find the animal. On this occasion, I could not find any signs of the seal, and reported that back to the aquarium... However as we thought this was a real sighting (some are not) I determined to return to the beach the next morning, and this time I did indeed find the baby seal... it was laying on a rock just above he high tide mark. I would have seen it the evening before if it had been in this location, so I surmised that it had moved.
Baby Gray Seal on the Rocks, Newport Cliff Walk
The Rescue: Collection and Transport
I notified the Aquarium that I had indeed found a roughly 2 month old baby gray seal on the rocks just above high tide, and while I saw no injuries, it did not look happy. Since we saw no injuries, we decided to let it sit and see what happened.
I went on about my business and returned with my wife in the afternoon the same day. The seal was still where I had found it in the morning, and my wife went up to it to get a look at it and discovered a wound of fairly serious nature on the underside of its tail... The wound had been covered when I looked at it in the morning, but ti was apparent the seal had been bitten by a reasonably large animal. Later it was determined that it was a type of small tiger shark that had been the culprit. My wife sat with the seal for more than two hours, talking to it, comforting it, and growing increasingly attached to it, as if it were a pet. We had called the Aquarium and set up a collection effort, and the crew arrived about 2 hours after.
The way we deal with the collection is simply to get the seal into a pet carrier crate, by means of creating a pathway using several water rescue boards to guide it into the crate. We did this with the little baby seal and eventually the seal entered the crate, but not without some fuss, and a bunch of coaxing by my wife, and the rest of us. Once in the crate it was a matter of carrying the crate up the rocks and along the path to the Aquarium truck. This we did without incident. I say without incident because at other transports we have had some difficulty, as when we had to carry a 700 pound dead bottle nose dolphin a few hundred yards to get it to the truck... took about a dozen of us that time, and even then not without a lot of hard work. This time it was much easier, the seal being very young and so much lighter to lift and carry than it might have been. We loaded the crate into the truck and the crew drove it down to Mystic CT to the marine mammal unit.
How to get the seal into the crate for transport?
Transport and Recovery
The seal was put in quarantine and the veterinarians went to work on the wound. The baby seal had a good sized chunk of flesh missing from around its tail flippers, looking much like a bite wound, which was treated and the seal was put on antibiotics, and kept well fed. My wife and I visited the baby seal, by this time being called Cassiopeia by the staff and volunteers at the Aquarium, during its recovery. My wife was overjoyed at how well the seal was doing, and we both were quite moved by the great recovery she was undergoing.
The rescued seals are placed in tanks of various sizes depending on their condition, usually with newly rescued ones being placed in smaller tanks to prevent them from drowning or otherwise injuring themselves, and as they recover, they are moved to larger tanks that allow more movement and swimming. The tanks are plastic tubs and allow for being rained when the staff need to treat the seals, as with examining the progress of the wounds, and for medicating them when needed. Cassiopeia was in a smaller size tank when we visited, but was healing quite well, and had gained some weight while there, a very good thing indeed.
The Final Result: Release
Thoughts on Volunteer Services
Do you volunteer, or would you, for services related to this type of work at animal rescue leagues (ASPCA) or other organizations?
And Away They Go
Recovery and Release
A few months later, the Aquarium sends us notice that Cassiopeia will be released with another baby seal at the beach in Narragansett with full fanfare including several classes of school children and media attention. My wife and I could not miss this event and decided to play hooky from work and to attend the release back into nature of our most favorite baby seal. We arrived at the beach area to find dozens of cars and what seemed like hundreds of people watching as the seals were let go on the beach.
To ensure the seals would continue out into the bay and not hang around on the public beach, we all waited and watched... Cassiopeia went out a hundred feet or so and stopped, her head bobbing up and down in the low waves. The second seal was a bit less brave, and remained around the beach for some time, requiring some staff with boards to guide her to sea... Cassiopeia seemed to be waiting for the other, like young friends, encouraging the other to move out to sea. Eventually the other did, and the two vanished into the bay. We were very excited to see this, and followed the progress of Cassiopeia as she swam around the jetty and moved toward open water.
Nice Day for a Swim
A very public swim
As the seals were released to cheering crowds, I made my way up onto the pier to watch as she swam out to sea. They were moving slowly away from the beach now, around the pier, and toward open water, exactly as it should be. Crowds of school children cheered as the two seals bobbed and swam, as if saying goodbye and thank you.
The swim took about half an hour, and by that time we could no longer see the two baby seal pups. But before they could round the pier and jetty, I became aware that some men were fishing off the end of the pier, and their lines were in the water. For fear of the seals getting hooked somehow (it does happen, especially if they go after the bait on the hook, which they can do) I ran out to the end of the pier and asked the men to pull up the lines at least until the seals could move past and away. I am not sure what the men were thinking, but in any event they did pull up the lines and hooks.The seals moved on, and all went as perfectly as it could have gone.
Cassiopeia awaiting her friend...
Both emotional and memorable: We will not forget that day...
The crowd began to dissipate, with people slowly moving away and cars nudging their way out of the parking area. My wife and I were entranced by the whole thing, from the first sighting of the young baby gray seal, to the rescue, the recovery and our visit to the holding tank, down all the way to the release. We talk about it to all our friends and relatives still to this day. Not all of our efforts are as uplifting as this, with dead or dying animals, half decomposed, lying on the beach, to some so severely wounded or sick they do not survive. But in this case, and the others like it we have participated in, the good feeling of success cannot be topped. I think much of our pleasure at this baby seal's tenacity and high spirit comes from having been a participant throughout the entire process, and of course, from the fact that this little pup has such a great personality, and is among the cutest critters we have ever had the joy of meeting. Our only sadness comes from the fact that funding did not allow for a radio tag on this gorgeous creature. It is tagged, and if it is found the Aquarium will be notified. But a radio tag would have been much more useful and inspiring.
I debate the pros and cons of trying to crowd source funding for the radio tags, and so far see no cons... I am mentioning it to the powers that be at the Aquarium to see what might be acceptable.
For all the tough tasks that come with volunteering for marine animal rescue services, the joy at seeing an animal, wounded and near death, healed and then released back into the wild, healthy and well fed, makes the effort well worth it. We continue to volunteer for the Mystic Aquarium Marine Animal Rescue program, and will do so as long as we are able. We encourage anyone who can to do so as well, whether at a nearby aquarium, a bird sanctuary, or what have you... the joys can be among the greatest one can experience.