Northern Fur Seal Pup Injured By String

The Oregon Coast Aquarium admitted an injured male northern fur seal (Callorhinus ursinus) pup for rehabilitation. The cause? Entanglement by a plastic string, likely from a balloon or packaging material. The string bore through the young seal’s thick fur coat and skin, leaving an open wound around the neck.

An officer with the NOAA Fisheries Office of Law Enforcement reported the injured animal to the Oregon Marine Mammal Stranding Network (OMMSN) after it was found in an RV parking lot in Winchester Bay. The small seal was vocal and appeared alert albeit its injuries. It likely crossed the road into the RV lot from the water.

OMMSN Stranding Coordinator, Jim Rice, who also works with Oregon State University’s Marine Mammal Institute at the Hatfield Marine Science Center, contacted Oregon Coast Aquarium Director of Animal Husbandry, Jim Burke, to inquire about admitting the pup for rehabilitation. Upon Burke’s positive confirmation, Rice drove to retrieve the injured animal and transport it to the Aquarium. A few hours later, Aquarium staff admitted the pup for care, immediately removed the entanglement, and administered wound treatment.

Aquarium staff will continue to provide antibiotics, fluids, and radiant heat for the northern fur seal pup until its planned release tomorrow. Staff will also tag the animal for future identification purposes in case it was ever to strand again.

“The sooner the pup is released, the better,” said Burke. “The animal would not have survived without being dis-entangled. He is stronger today now that we’ve removed the entanglement and administered multiple courses of antibiotics. The best thing is to get the pup back in the water where it can hunt for food. Luckily, the wound appears superficial.”

In general, the Oregon Coast Aquarium is committed to the rescue and rehabilitation of indigenous wildlife when they are deemed injured by human interference. Our goal is to mitigate human impact on wildlife in order to contribute to species conservation and prevent animal suffering.

“When people release balloons into the air, they often end up in the ocean. Then the string potentially becomes entanglement to marine life,” said Rice. “The OMMSN sees this situation often. We don’t get an awful lot of live fur seals, but we do see dead entangled animals regularly. This guy is lucky.”

Northern fur seals are pelagic marine mammals that spend most of their time in the open sea, only coming onshore for pupping and breeding. Their range extends throughout the Pacific Ocean from Japan to California, but the main breeding colonies are in the Bering Sea. Northern fur seals are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act as a depleted species, as populations are declining due to prey availability, entanglement, and sensitivity to the changing ocean environment.

“We don’t see a lot of pups, and the OMMSN only gets about a half dozen or so northern fur seals per year in Oregon overall. They are not a commonly stranded species, since they rarely come onshore,” said Rice. The Oregon Coast Aquarium last rehabilitated and successfully released a northern fur seal in 2012.

In most cases of sick and injured marine mammals, like the harbor seals and sea lions more commonly seen on our coast, the Aquarium advises the public to obey marine mammal protection laws and let nature take its course. Pup mortality is a natural check on robust wild populations. These animals can also harbor bacteria responsible for leptospirosis, which is a harmful disease to humans and dogs. “Concerned observers can call the Oregon Marine Mammal Stranding Network Hotline [541-270-6830] if a stranded animal is spotted,” said Burke. “Their staff can post courtesy signs near the animal to inform other beachgoers of the situation.”

Source: Oregon Coast Aquarium

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