Story last updated at 4:30 p.m. Thursday, June 20, 2002

Rescued harbor seal pup doing well
by Sepp Jannotta
Staff Writer

photo: news
  Photo by Sepp Jannotta, Homer News
Although not in need of rescue, this harbor seal drew attention as it lazed on the docks in Halibut Cove recently.  
Intervening with a marine mammal is not a decision wildlife biologists take lightly, particularly when that animal is found in the McNeil River State Wildlife Sanctuary, where the overriding philosophy is to try not to meddle in natural processes.

Nonetheless, there are times when staying on the sidelines is hard to do.

That was the case for Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologist Larry Aumiller when a days-old harbor seal pup washed ashore at McNeil following a June 8 storm.

Aumiller decided, after two days of observing from a distance, to rescue the abandoned and bawling pup. The idea of watching this little pup get devoured by a brown bear was apparently beyond his limits.

That is how the harbor seal pup, now known as "Willie," managed to get a ticket on a Beluga Air flight to Homer, during which the 33-pound bundle of fat and fur traveled in a laundry basket with a brown leather basketball for company.

Then it was on to Seward and the Alaska Sea

Life Center.

After 10 days, Willie has adjusted well to his temporary home and has already begun swimming.

At the center, Willie joined two other stranded seal pups and a remarkable Steller sea lion pup named Faith. The 3-week-old pup is the first stranded sea lion successfully rescued and nursed back to health in the center's rehab program, according to rehabilitation technician Tim Lebling.

If all goes well and Willie gets the hang of catching his dinner, he goes back to the sea in September. For Faith, the process is going to be longer because sea lions often don't wean until they are 1 year old.

Despite the stories of successful rescues, it is against the law to approach seals or sea lions, even if one looks to be abandoned. Anyone who thinks a marine mammal is in trouble should call the Sea Life Center rescue staff at 224-6395.

The story of Faith's rescue became even more poignant for the Sea Life staff after they observed the loss of eight or nine Steller sea lion pups at the Chiswell Island rookery during a storm on June 8.

It is a particularly tough loss because Stellar sea lion populations in the Gulf of Alaska region have declined significantly in recent years.