Alaska SeaLife Center admits rescued harbor seal and sea otter pups

a sea otter in a blanket
On Sept. 7, a baby sea otter was found with his dying mother on a remote beach near Happy Valley, south of Ninilchik, only accessible by ATV. (Emily Pomeroy/Alaska SeaLife Center)

The Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward has admitted two new patients to its wildlife rehabilitation program.

SeaLife Center staff rescued a young male harbor seal and male sea otter pup in late August and early September, respectively.

Jane Belovarac is the wildlife response curator at the center – the only facility in the state which rescues and rehabilitates marine mammals.

She said the two-month-old harbor seal – newly named Cerulean – was reported by the captain of a local charter fishing boat on Aug. 22, after the pup climbed onto the boat’s deck near Hive Island, about 15 miles south of Seward in Resurrection Bay.

Belovarac said he was emaciated and had wounds on his flippers.

a harbor seal in a blanket
Cerulean is the third harbor seal admitted to the Alaska SeaLife Center this year. (Kaiti Grant/Alaska SeaLife Center)

“When it came to us, what was surprising was it was so small,” she said. “Normally, animals at this age should be around 30 to 50 pounds. This guy was like 15.”

Belovarac said the seal pup may have been separated from his mother and developed an illness that stunted his growth.

Staff’s main concerns were with his malnourishment, dehydration and lethargy.

Belovarac said in the center’s care, the young harbor seal quickly took to eating fish on his own. But the team is still providing stabilizing treatments and monitoring him to understand the severity of his conditions.

She said it’s still too early to tell if they’ll be able to release him back into the wild.

“With any harbor seal we admit, the ultimate goal is to be able to release them, but because of some health issues or whatnot, we might not be able to,” Belovarac said. “So ultimately, that’s our hope, but the animal itself is going to dictate whether it can be released or it should stay in human care.”

Cerulean is the third harbor seal admitted to the center this year. Two newborns were rescued in early June after being abandoned by their mothers on a beach in Kasilof. They were released back into Cook Inlet last month.

Then, on Sept. 7, a baby sea otter was found with his dying mother on a remote beach near Happy Valley, south of Ninilchik, only accessible by ATV.

A caller reported the pair of otters to the center’s Stranded Marine Animal Hotline.

Belovarac said the caller said the sea otter mother was barely moving or breathing and was carrying her four-month-old pup on top of her.

“The mother was clearly dying,” Belovarac said. “She was very skinny and was barely moving, not breathing much. And so because of the situation and because of the remoteness, we worked with the observers and with U.S. Fish and Wildlife, and we decided our best bet was to pick up the pup, but to leave the mother.”

The original observers were able to return to the remote site the next day and confirm that the mother had died.

Belovarac said the otter pup – who still doesn’t have a name – was underweight, but otherwise alert and strong. After his exam, he was swimming energetically and eating solid food.

“He’s only been with us for a week, so it’s really hard to tell if there [are] any other things that might pop up in the future. But so far, he’s doing good,” she said. “He didn’t need too much care when he first came with us, and he’s been adjusting to being under our care pretty nicely.”

He’s the first sea otter to be admitted to the rehabilitation center this year.

The sea otter pup will likely live out his life in captivity. Belovarac said sea otters under the age of six months aren’t able to get the appropriate level of training from care specialists to survive in the wild.

“And that’s because most otter pups spend at least a year with their mother,” she said. “They might not necessarily be drinking from [their] mother, but they’re definitely learning from her about how to hunt, where to hunt, social dynamics and things like that.”

Belovarac said the sea otter pup will likely head to another facility once he has been rehabilitated.

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