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Coast Guard lends a hand in seal's release

OCT. 1 -- One seal got to head back to her watery home Sept. 20, thanks to the rehabilitation efforts of the Marine Mammal Stranding Center in Brigantine, N.J., and the Coast Guard from Station Point Judith, R.I.

“Most people who join the Coast Guard do it to save lives,” says Senior Chief Petty Officer Chad Curth in a news release. “Every now and then we get the chance to help save an animal’s life — and that’s rewarding too.”

The seal was set free at Salty Brine Beach in Narragansett, R.I. Bob Schoelkopf, founding director of the Marine Mammal Stranding Center, told Soundings that the seal was safer in Rhode Island because she would avoid lobster traps and other commercial fishing gear off the coast of New Jersey.

“Seals have a very inquisitive nature, and they end up getting tangled up in the gear,” says Schoelkopf. “We asked the Coast Guard to help because, since she is 140 pounds, we needed some help carrying her crate down to the beach.”

After opening the crate the seal first headed opposite the water, but soon found her bearings and hit the waves.

According to Schoelkopf, she is the 39th animal they rescued this year. “She came in on March 30 of this year from the borough of Ship Bottom on Long Beach Island, N.J., “ says Schoelkopf. “When she came in she was 81 pounds and when she was released she was 140 pounds, so she gained a lot of weight while she was here.”

Schoelkopf says she had to stay at the center longer because they discovered sinus mites in her nose, prolonging a respiratory infection.

“This is something we have never seen in seals before; they look a lot like ticks,” says Schoelkopf. “We’re going to be keeping an eye on that in the future.”

Schoelkopf says seals often become stranded due to illness, making them weak so they can’t keep up with the fish.

“We rescue anywhere from 70 to 100 each year, with a 94-percent recovery rate, so we have a lot of happy endings,” says Schoelkopf. “The Coast Guard is not allowed to pick up these animals, but it has always been available as a helping hand to us in the past.”

— Elizabeth Ellis