The Vancouver Aquarium says it’s seeing a sharp increase in the number of seal pups being rescued from B.C.’s coasts and brought in for rehabilitation.
There’s just one problem: many of those pups don’t need saving at all.
The aquarium’s Marine Mammal Rescue Centre says human interference with newborn seals is to blame for the recent uptick, with just 11 since the end of June.
Emily Johnson, assistant manager of the Rescue Centre, said in a release 93 seals have been admitted so far this year alone. While some of those pups were in distress and needed rescuing, she said, many didn’t.
“Once a pup has been removed from its natural environment it makes it difficult to be reunited with mom, and then we have no choice but to rehabilitate them,” Johnson said. “That’s why it’s crucial for anyone who spots a pup on its own to leave it be, and to call the Rescue Centre.”
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The aquarium says it has witnessed or heard reports of increasingly inappropriate treatment of these pups: everything from feeding them smoked oysters and chicken drumsticks to simply placing them back into the water.
People have also hung the pups upside down by their flippers to take pictures, staff have reported.
Then there are the ways the pups have been “rescued” and brought to the Rescue Centre.
One woman brought a pup home and placed it in her bathtub before reporting it. In another instance, a man zipped two newborn pups inside a couch cushion case and drove them to the Rescue Centre in the backseat, right next to his dog.
The problem, Johnson said, is pups are often left alone while their mother forages for food, making it important for the pups to stay in place so they can be found again.
Foraging also helps the mother sustain lactation, a feature not shared with other marine mammals.
“The mother might be absent for several hours, so it’s imperative that humans and pets leave them alone,” she said.
“It’s a perfectly natural situation and it does not mean the pups have been deserted or orphaned.”
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The aquarium says the best thing that people can do when they see a seal pup by itself is to keep their distance and call the Rescue Centre to report its location. Staff will then review the pup’s condition and determine whether the animal needs rehabilitation.
“We want to make sure that every pup reported is indeed separated from its mom, because we know that a healthy pup’s best chance of survival is being raised by its mother,” Johnson said.
The number for the Marine Mammal Rescue Centre is 604-258-SEAL (7325). Reports can also be filed with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans hotline at 1-800-465-4336.