Seal pups rescued with help from Ventura's Island Packers

By Alex Wilson 02/05/2009

Four northern fur seal pups that needed some human help for survival are back in the waters of the Channel Islands Marine Sanctuary, thanks to dedicated rescue volunteers and a transportation concessionaire for the Channel Islands National Park.

They were found along the Los Angeles County coastline last autumn, and nursed back to health at the Marine Mammal Care Center in San Pedro. Two of the sick or injured young seals were found on beaches, one was in a dry riverbed, and the fourth was found in someone’s garden in Long Beach.        

“They came in for a variety of reasons,” says Operations Director David Bard. “Some of them had parasites and one of them actually had a fish hook embedded in this tongue, which needed to be removed. All of them were pretty underweight when they got to us.”

Island Packers boat captain David Corey recently released the healthy seals off his vessel Islander at a secluded spot off Santa Cruz Island. He’s taken about 10 voyages with rescued marine mammals on board, and says he has mixed feelings seeing them swim away.

“It’s kind of a bittersweet moment. It’s nice to see them released back into the wild, but you know that it is the wild wilderness and there’s a chance they won’t make it, but you have to hope that they will. You’re happy and a little anxious at the same time,” says Corey.

Bard says he’s grateful for the assistance from Island Packers because of advantages to releasing northern fur seals near the Channel Islands. “They spend a lot of time in open water, and it’s uncommon for them to come to the coastal shoreline.

So it was best to get them out on an island off the coast and away from the urban area,” says Bard.

Distressed marine mammals found in Ventura County are cared for by another rescue group called the Channel Islands Marine and Wildlife Institute located in Gaviota in the former Vista Del Mar school building along the 101 Freeway. The group has an indoor marine mammal hospital and is in the process of building new outdoor pens. It is currently treating five California sea lions, with various ailments, that people found stranded along the coast.

Executive Director Samuel Dover says healthy marine mammals sometimes rest on local beaches, so it can be tricky to tell if they need help. “A sleeping sea lion looks just like a sick sea lion. So the first thing to do is don’t touch it, leave it alone. But if it’s still there the next day, by all means we could have a problem,” says Dover.

People who do find sick or injured marine mammals are urged to call the institute immediately. They’ll need to give the specific location where the animal is stranded, and the type of ailment, like a fishing net entanglement or shark bite. They also need to indicate the approximate size of the animal. The hotline number (805) 567-1505.

Both rescue organizations rely on help from volunteers and donations. More information is available on the Web sites at www.marinemammalcare.org and www.cimwi.org.                                                                  

Please contact Outdoor Observer with details and contact information about environmental events, volunteer opportunities and adventure sports at outdoors@vcreporter.com.

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