Harbor seal Aquapup may sound like he could be a superhero, but it is the members of the public who call our 24-hour hotline and people like you who support our rescue efforts who are the true heroes in this story.
March 20, 2019
Harbor seal Aquapup at the time of his rescue. Photo courtesy of the Fireside Inn on Moonstone Beach
At Moonstone Beach Boardwalk in San Luis Obispo, California, beachgoers spotted a small fluffy figure alone at the bottom of a sandy stairwell. Soon after, they realized it was a young harbor seal pup.
The concerned beachgoers called our 24-hour rescue hotline and our experienced rescue team arrived to evaluate the animal. Our team carefully searched the area and took note of the surroundings. There were several other harbor seal pups on the beach, indicating that their mothers might be in the area as well.
It’s a normal occurrence for harbor seal moms to leave their pups on the beach as they go to sea in search for food. Hoping all the moms would return, the rescue team decided to leave them be for the time being.
When our rescue team returned to the boardwalk to check on the pups, the beach was nearly empty—the other seal pups had moved on. However, the pup in question was still in the same spot. Determining that the young pup had been separated from his mother, our rescue team moved into action.
He was named Aquapup and brought to the Center’s triage site in San Luis Obispo. There he was stabilized with fluids and tube-fed a nutritious milk formula. During his admit exam, our veterinarians saw several signs revealing that Aquapup was only a few days old. Not only didn’t he have teeth, he didn’t even have tooth buds. And he was also sporting a fluffy lanugo coat of fur often seen on newborn pups, and part of his umbilical cord was still attached.
Aquapup was transferred to our hospital in Sausalito where he is receiving rehabilitative care. Each animal that is rescued has their own set of needs so it’s hard to say how long he’ll be here. But rest assured that Aquapup will receive care until our experts see that he’s healthy and can successfully compete for fish. Once ready for return to the wild, he’ll be released.
When Aquapup first arrived, he was so young that he needed to be fed every few hours, so our volunteers are worked nearly around the clock to keep him nourished. The Center’s veterinarians also prescribed vitamins and antibiotics to help treat any infections and boost his fragile newborn immune system.
While young patients like Aquapup wait for their teeth to grow in, our volunteers tube-feed them ‘”fish smoothies.” Photo by Bill Hunnewell © The Marine Mammal Center.
Because young harbor seals like Aquapup are at a higher risk of illness without the antibodies from their mother’s milk, our volunteers are specially trained to avoid cross-contamination with our other seal and sea lion patients to minimize potential transfer of viruses or bacteria.
Fortunately, Aquapup hasn’t contracted any illnesses. However, at time of rescue he was just 12 pounds – just half of what a harbor seal pup typically weighs at birth. In the wild, harbor seal pups nurse with their mothers for about four weeks before they are weaned. The milk from a harbor seal mother is much richer and more nutritious than anything humans can provide, so it takes much longer for rescued pups to gain enough weight to sustain themselves.
When he first arrived at our hospital, he was housed in a dry pen in our harbor seal hospital because he was still too weak to be swimming on his own. Thanks to our dedicated animal care crews and support from people like you, Aquapup has been gaining weight at a healthy rate and getting much stronger.
Once Aquapup was strong enough to be moved to a pooled pen, his rehabilitative care expanded to include a variety of enrichment activities and lessons in “fish school” – where volunteers teach young seals to chase fish around the pool by tying string on a herring and dragging it through the water.
As one of the first harbor seal pups of 2019, Aquapup had no pen-mates at first. But in the last few weeks, more pups have stranded on our beaches in need of care. Spring is pupping season along the California coast as mother seals give birth. At this time of year, we typically rescue eight to 10 patients every day!
Once Aquapup is able to catch fish on his own and compete with his pen-mates, he’ll be ready to return to the wild with a second chance at life, thanks to support from people like you.
If you see seal or sea lion pups on a beach looking sick or injured, please resist the urge to approach or handle them. The best thing you can do for these animals is to Leave Seals Be and get the experts involved by calling our 24-hour rescue hotline: (415) 289-SEAL (7325).
Do You Want to Be a Marine Mammal Superhero?
Did you know that generous people like you provide life-saving care for orphaned animals like Aquapup? Yes, your generosity today will go a long way to give our patients a second chance at life.
Just $25 buys 25 pounds of fish!
Thank you for caring about marine mammals and their ocean home.
Learn about: Pacific harbor seals
Learn how important it is to Leave Seals Be
Learn how you can: Get Involved to Help Marine Mammals!