Sable and Angel, both rescued as pups this summer in Bristol Bay waters, were released into the Naknek River after a few months of rehabilitation at the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward.
Two rehabilitated harbor seals began their life in the wild again when they were released into the Naknek River just after sunrise on Friday, October 13. Dianne Trobaugh and Jane Belovarac of the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward worked in partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife staff in King Salmon to see the seals returned to the Bristol Bay waters they were born in earlier this year.
A crowd of about 20, including some homeschool students, gathered on the beach by Peter Pan at high tide on a beautiful morning. Pet kennels with the two seals were brought within a few yards of the water’s edge then opened, and the mammals crawled out and made their way into the river.
“One of them put on a real show for us,” said Tom Cady, the deputy manager at Becharof National Wildlife Refuge. “She turned on her back and just kind of motored back and forth for a while, it was real cute.”
The crowd stayed for a while until the two seals were gone from sight.
Sable and Angel, as they were later named, were rescued as pups after being abandoned or orphaned by their mothers in late June. According to the SeaLife Center, both pups were dehydrated and underweight with no chance of survival when they were brought in. Sable was rescued from Pilot Point at just two days old, and Angel, from Coffee Point, was ten days old and suffered from an infected umbilical cord.
These seals found their way to the center, as most do, with phone calls to the SeaLife hotline.
“A concerned citizen will call the SeaLife Center and we’ll work with US Fish and Wildlife to access the situation, as well NOAA, National Marine Fisheries Service, to decide if the animal should be picked up and rehabilitated,” Belovarac, a senior veterinary technician at ASLC explained.
Sable and Angel were treated individually. Their rehabilitation regimen began with tube feedings of special harbor seal formula and were given carefully monitored swim times. The seal pups gradually learned to fish independently, before moving to larger, deeper pools where they began to socialize, forage, and compete for food. Human contact was also reduced as the weeks went by, and eventually the healthy seals were tagged and released into the wild.
The team spent the rest of the day in Naknek and King Salmon educating area school children about the SeaLife Center’s efforts to rescue and rehabilitate marine mammals like Sable and Angel.
“We had the honor of working with some home schools, as well as the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th grades. It was a great time,” Belovarac said.
If you are concerned about an injured or stranded marine animal, you can contact a local U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service office or the Alaska SeaLife Center toll-free hotline at 1- 888-774 SEAL.
Monica Waring is a freelance reporter living in Naknek. Reach her through firstname.lastname@example.org or 907.842.5281.