Rescue of Baby Hooded Seal in U.S. Hits a Snag

Bijal P. Trivedi
National Geographic Today
November 27, 2001

Scientists at the National Aquarium in Baltimore are concerned about the whereabouts of a baby hooded seal they spent four months resuscitating after it was rescued in waters off the U.S. East Coast.

The pup, which apparently had wandered far from the Arctic, was on the verge of death—dehydrated, malnourished, and with a disease—when found near a beach on Assateague Island in Virginia.

The pup recovered after months of devoted care, and the scientists drove from Maryland to Long Island to release him back into the sea. Within days of his release, however, transmissions from a satellite tag on the seal's back indicated he was much farther south, close to where he had originally been rescued.

Now, a week after the pup—known as 12-CC—for Number 12 Cystophora cristata—was released, the signals are no longer being received.

"The last transmission we had from 12-CC was right off Virginia Beach," said marine mammal specialist David Schofield of the National Aquarium. "This is not the direction we wanted him to go—he was supposed to head north."

Far From Home

Hooded seals, which get their name from red nasal sacs that males can inflate during courtship, typically spend the summer north of the Arctic Circle.

They spend their time atop coastal ice floes, eating ice and diving for fish. So finding 12-CC, and many other lost seal pups, wandering in East Coast waters as far south as the Caribbean is startling.

This year an unusually large number of hooded seals have been found stranded along the eastern shoreline of the United States, and scientists have no idea why. One of the seals was discovered off the island of Bermuda, which has never been known to happen before.

Schofield and his colleagues had hoped that 12-CC would provide some of the answers.

Devoting considerable attention to the rescue and rehabilitation of a single animal is often controversial because of questions about whether it's fair to allocate so many resources to one individual at perhaps the expense of the species. But a single animal can sometimes serve as a barometer for the health of its species and of ocean health in general.

Ian Walker, an associate veterinarian at the National Aquarium, said trends such as the recent discovery of many stranded seals off the U.S. East Coast are usually an indication of a problem that's affecting the larger seal community.

Continued on Next Page >>


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