By Lauren Wanko
Meet the Marine Mammal Stranding Center’s newest patient — a 6- to 8-month-old female grey seal. The animal was spotted on the beach coughing and looking lethargic. After care and a cocktail of antibiotics, things are looking up for her.
“We have to do one more blood draw and then we wait about 10 days and then we get the permission to release her. That’s from NOAA fisheries,” said Marine Mammal Stranding Center Co-Director Sheila Dean.
The Marine Mammal Stranding Center, a non-profit on the island of Brigantine Beach, rescues, rehabilitates and releases stranded marine mammals and sea turtles.
“We’re the only facility in the state of New Jersey that has ever done rescue for whales, dolphins, seals and sea turtles,” Dean said.
The center’s volunteers and staffers monitor the seals who rest on the beach, checking for injuries, weight lose and illness. Sick seals are netted and placed in a kennel and travel to the center where they’re placed in the intensive care unit. Here they’re given fluids and undergo blood tests to determine a diagnose.
Once the animals are well enough to leave the intensive care unit, they’re moved to the pool house where they stay until they’re released back into the wild. The Marine Mammal Stranding Center has responded to more than 4,500 animal strandings since it was founded in 1978.
“We give them very little human contact. We go in and do what’s absolutely necessary and leave the animals alone. We don’t talk to them, we don’t try to make friends with them,” said Dean.
During the winter, the stranding center can have as many as 22 seals. Many stay in tanks in a military hospital tent. Last summer staffers responded to six to seven dolphin beachings daily. Many of the animals were infected with the morbillivirus. Since the center relies on grants and donations, educational outreach is another part of their mission. This morning they partnered with the Wetlands Institute for Turtle Day. The reptiles are very common in New Jersey.
“We have a great ecosystem to support sea turtles and other turtle life,” said Wetlands Institute’s Outreach Coordinator Kaitlin Gannon.
Gannon says demonstrations with live animals is an important component of educational outreach.
“Because people can develop a connection with them. Once they develop that connection, they can develop an appreciation for it, not just for species, but for the habitat,” said Gannon.
Five-year-old Gina’s favorite part about seeing the turtles up close?
“You could see it, like moving,” she said.
“Seeing its head sticking out and in,” said another child.
As for the stranding center’s newest patient, the seal’s doing just fine now and staffers hope she won’t be a patient here much longer.