Seaside Aquarium got at call at 9 a.m. last Saturday morning about an abandoned seal pup stranded along the shore in Cannon Beach.
The pup ended up being a Guadalupe fur seal, a threatened species of pinniped with an estimated population of only 34,000. The seal was thin, dehydrated and a bit out of its normal range.
After coordinating with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and SR3, a rehab facility in Des Moines, Washington, Seaside Aquarium staff successfully recovered and helped bring the seal to treatment.
Guadalupe fur seals are a rare sight to see on the Oregon Coast. The species is native to the Pacific coastal waters of northern Mexico and southern California.
However, young fur seals can travel long distances following warm off-shore currents and become cold-shocked by northern ocean temperatures along Oregon and Washington coastlines.
Endemic to Guadalupe Island off the west coast of Mexico’s Baja Peninsula, the threatened species of Guadalupe fur seal (Arctocephalus townsendi) has an estimated population of only 34,000 individuals. Throughout the 1800s the species was hunted to near extinction for their thick layer of fine fur. Since the 1950s the species has been protected by United States and Mexico law and is protected under the Endangered Species Act and Marine Mammal Protection Act.
Guadalupe fur seals are considered a species of sea-lion, characterized by their long front flippers and ear flaps. The “eared seal” is not social while at sea and typically does not migrate or travel far from the breeding waters of Guadalupe Island. However, during seasonal changes, young pups follow warmer currents and can become stranded in the cold waters off the Oregon Coast.
Unlike our local pinnipeds (sea lions and seals) the fur seal lacks a layer of blubber to regulate body temperature in colder waters. Once sluggish and cold, these warm-water pinnipeds are known to become tangled in rope and debris.
Thankfully the local Marine Mammal Stranding Network is actively working with Guadalupe fur seal experts to help recover wayward fur seals that are found on our coastline.
Since 1995 Seaside Aquarium has spearheaded the Southern Washington Northern Oregon Marine Mammal Stranding Network, a collaboration of experts and volunteers to respond to stranded sea mammals along the southern Washington and northern Oregon Coast. Through this program, locally stranded Guadalupe fur seals are able to be recovered and transported to a rehabilitation center in southern California.
According to the Marine Mammal Center, release back to the wild is the ultimate goal for every animal.
To be released, animals must pass final examinations, proving they are able to successfully forage for fish.
All animals receive a flipper tag; some that are released may receive satellite or radio tags so their progress can be tracked.
As for the fur seal found in Cannon Beach last week, after a brief nap at the Seaside Aquarium, the seal was given fluids and transferred. Once stable, the seal will be transferred to a rehabilitation facility in California, and if all goes well, eventually released.
For more information about the Marine Mammal Stranding Network please call the Seaside Aquarium 503-738-6211.