‘Please don’t’: Biologists irked after American plucks baby seal onto boat near Port McNeill

“I got a call from a lady in Texas saying her husband … has a seal pup on his boat”

A baby seal was ‘rescued’ by an American sport fisherman from Port McNeill two weeks ago, but local observers say the pup still had its umbilical cord attached, and that its mum had been seen nearby.

The boater allegedly ignored this advice, picked up the seal pup and brought it to his boat. He set off towards Vancouver and called his wife in Texas.

“I got a call from a lady in Texas saying her husband was up here fishing and said he has a seal pup on his boat,” said Lindsaye Akhurst, manager at the Ocean Wise Marine Mammal Rescue Centre based in Vancouver. The wife had called to find out what her husband should do, and what he should feed the pup.

“Please don’t!” Akhurst told her.

A seal pup’s diet is very specific, and she guessed it would have been more than stressed after being relocated to a large sport fishing boat. When Akhurst spoke with the fisherman, it was tense and difficult.

“He was very adamant that the animal did need assistance and that what he was doing was the correct thing to do,” she said.

What he didn’t know was that the B.C. Marine Mammal Response Network were already observing the baby, and had seen an adult seal nearby. There was no reason for concern at the time.

It’s normal for seal mothers to leave their pups on shore while they go fishing, and can sometimes be away for up to 24 hours. It’s best to observe from a safe distance for a while. If the mother sees a lot of threatening humans around her pup, she may abandon it and not come back at all.

By now the seal had been on the boat overnight and was getting dehydrated.

“It’s probably going to die,” the man told Akhurst in a panic.

Despite strained disagreement over his actions, the fisherman and Akhurst agreed the seal couldn’t stay on the boat. She coordinated with volunteers in Campbell River, now the nearest port, to pick up the pup. They met at the dock in full personal protective equipment.

Scientists don’t know whether marine animals are at risk of COVID-19, and the Marine Mammal Rescue staff took extra precautions just in case.

Zenon Samuel photographed in Port McNeill before he was plucked off the log and “rescued” by a visiting sport fisherman. In this image the umbilical cord is still attached. Locals were observing the seal and knew an adult was nearby. (Submitted photo)

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“We don’t want to find out this way.”

The baby seal was driven to Nanaimo and flown to the Marine Mammal Rescue Centre in Vancouver. He arrived dehydrated and malnourished, and was quickly fed zoological milk formula. Two weeks later the pup – named Zenon Samuel by donors – is gaining weight and learning to fish. Soon he’ll join a couple of other seals in a larger tank where they’ll practice competing for food. When he reaches over 20 kilograms Zenon will go back to the wild.

Disturbing a marine mammal is a federal offence. This situation was reported to Fisheries and Oceans Canada, but no word yet on whether they plan to file charges.

Officials are reminding the public to stay back that when they see a marine mammal in distress, to keep other people and pets away, and call the rescue centre at 604-258-7325 or the Department of Fisheries and Oceans hotline at 1-800-465-4336.

The Marine Mammal Rescue Centre has a page for each ‘patient’ in care, including Zenon Samuel.

Zenon Samuel photographed in Port McNeill before he was plucked off the log and “rescued” by a visiting sport fisherman. Locals were observing the seal and knew an adult was nearby. (Submitted photo)

Do you have something to add to this story or something else we should report on? Email: zoe.ducklow@blackpress.ca


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