November 18 was release day for an orphaned seal pup that had been in care at PAWS Wildlife Center since August 10. The pup had been brought to PAWS by a NOAA Fisheries Marine Mammal Stranding Network volunteer who had found him struggling on the beach at a busy resort in Union Washington. In the three months that had passed since he came through our doors, the seal had gone from being a thin, sickly, 15-pound pup to a chubby, 51-pound juvenile. Healthy, feisty and an expert at catching fish, he was now in prime shape to take a second shot at a wild, free life.
The sun was shining as Wildlife Rehabilitator Steph Herman, Online Communications Coordinator Whitney Allen and I pulled into the parking lot at Dosewallips State Park. The beach where we were releasing the seal was a quarter-mile away down a winding trail, but when we checked on the seal it was clear that he could smell the nearby saltwater. He was pressed up against the door of the carrier, eager to get out.
We strapped the seal's carrier to a hand truck for the journey to the beach. It was two hours before high tide and it was predicted to be a very high one with a peak of +11.7 feet. When we emerged from the woods and walked out into a marshy meadow that overlooks Hood Canal, the area was already filling in with water. As Steph, Whitney and I traversed the 100 yards or so across the meadow to the release site, the water gradually got deeper.
By the time we reached the steep dropoff at the beach we were standing in about a foot of water. This was no problem for the seal, nor was it a problem for me because I was wearing boots. It posed a slight problem for Steph (below left) and Whitney (below right), however, because they were wearing sneakers.
Other than ten very cold toes, the seal release went off without a hitch. As you can see in the photos below the seal emerged from his carrier, explored his new surroundings and eventually headed out toward deeper waters. We all wished him luck and squished our way back to the truck.