Mike, a harbor seal pup, was one of the first pups to be admitted to the Center's Harbor Seal Hospital in the 2011 pupping season. He was found at Bolinas Beach in Marin County on March 22. He was alone and listless, suffering from maternal separation. "It was severe, because at only 7.6 kilograms, Mike still had a three-inch umbilical cord, no teeth and was slightly jaundiced," said Deb Wickham, the Center's Veterinary Science Operations Manager.
"He was clearly a premature newborn, barely a few days old and still wearing his lanugo coat, typical of premature pups. This long, whitish coat of hair is usually shed while still in utero, and is less common in full-term pups," added Wickham.
After Mike’s “admit exam,” vet staff started him on a newborn pup protocol. First, he was stabilized with a tube-fed combination of electrolytes and fluids to re-hydrate his system. Mike also received a regimen of vitamin B-complex called pinnivite, to boost his immune system, and a round of antibiotics to help guard against a potentially fatal umbilicus infection.
Mike then received frequent, small tube-feedings of harbor seal pup formula – similar to human baby formula. Since Mike did not experience the benefits of being raised by his mother, his weaning process was longer than what he would have experienced in the wild. During the “wild-weaning” period of six to eight weeks, Mike would have received valuable antibodies from his mother’s milk, and crucial learning experiences in swimming, diving and finding food. At the Center, under artificial conditions, it took Mike about three months to reach independence, typical for most Harbor seal hospital patients his age.
© Dina Warren, volunteer, The Marine Mammal Center
© Tami Pearson, volunteer, The Marine Mammal Center
In the early stages of Mike’s recovery and rehabilitation, he was extremely lethargic, and described by vet staff as "sweet and low." “He was a slow developer and almost died a couple of times, with periodic bouts of inactive breathing common to fragile newborns,” explained Wickham. “It was a challenge for vet staff and Harbor Seal Crew volunteers to assess and differentiate Mike's weak and irregular breathing, and his overall unresponsiveness,” described Wickham.
Since Mike also had a faint and irregular heartbeat, vet staff decided to include a bronchial respiratory stimulant, doxopram, to help his underdeveloped lungs do a better job of keeping him alive. "Any time we see pups this tiny and so compromised, we have to provide this kind of supportive care," said Wickham.
It was touch and go, that first month of Mike’s life at the Center, but he grew and gained strength steadily. About a month after his rescue, Mike was finally ready to learn how to feed on whole fish, inside his small and shallow water enclosure.
Shortly thereafter, Mike graduated to one of the Center's larger, deeper pools, specifically designed for longer, deeper swimming and diving opportunities. These pools encourage pinniped patients of all ages to build stamina, strength, and agility, while independently retrieving and eating fish. Often there will be as many as five or six seals in one of these large water enclosures. As in the wild, Mike also learned to compete for food, while still under veterinary care.
On June 22, 2011, almost three months to the day after his rescue, Mike returned to his ocean home! He was joined by three of his pen mates, Dog Biscuit, Noyobabe, and Serenity, also pups treated for maternal separation. All were successfully released at Scotty Creek Beach, in Sonoma County.
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