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Fur seal pup found with plastic string around neck in Winchester Bay to return to wild

A fur seal pup found with a plastic string around the neck in an RV parking lot in Winchester Bay on Monday will be released back into the wild Wednesday, the Oregon Coast Aquarium said. (Oregon Coast Aquarium)

NEWPORT, Ore. - A fur seal pup found with a plastic string around the neck in an RV parking lot in Winchester Bay on Monday will be released back into the wild Wednesday, the Oregon Coast Aquarium said.

Aquarium staff said the male northern fur seal pup likely crossed the road to the RV lot from the water.

The string had cut through the seal's thick fur and skin, leaving an open wound around its neck. The string likely came from a balloon or packaging material, Aquarium staff said.

Jim Rice from Oregon State University's Marine Mammal Institute at the Hatfield Marine Science Center transported the injured animal to the Aquarium

"Aquarium staff admitted the pup for care, immediately removed the entanglement, and administered wound treatment," aquarium staff said in a report. "Aquarium staff will continue to provide antibiotics, fluids, and radiant heat for the northern fur seal pup until its planned release tomorrow. Staff will also tag the animal for future identification purposes in case it was ever to strand again."

Jim Burke, Oregon Coast Aquarium Director of Animal Husbandry, said a swift return to the wild is in the animal's best interest.

“The sooner the pup is released, the better,” said Burke. “The animal would not have survived without being dis-entangled. He is stronger today now that we’ve removed the entanglement and administered multiple courses of antibiotics. The best thing is to get the pup back in the water where it can hunt for food. Luckily, the wound appears superficial.”

The injury is not unfamiliar to the Oregon Marine Mammal Stranding Network, with which Rice also works.

“When people release balloons into the air, they often end up in the ocean. Then the string potentially becomes entanglement to marine life,” he said. “The OMMSN sees this situation often. We don’t get an awful lot of live fur seals, but we do see dead entangled animals regularly. This guy is lucky.”

According to the Aquarium:

Northern fur seals are pelagic marine mammals that spend most of their time in the open sea, only coming onshore for pupping and breeding. Their range extends throughout the Pacific Ocean from Japan to California, but the main breeding colonies are in the Bering Sea. Northern fur seals are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act as a depleted species, as populations are declining due to prey availability, entanglement, and sensitivity to the changing ocean environment.

“We don’t see a lot of pups, and the OMMSN only gets about a half dozen or so northern fur seals per year in Oregon overall. They are not a commonly stranded species, since they rarely come onshore,” Rice said.

The Oregon Coast Aquarium last rehabilitated and successfully released a northern fur seal in 2012.

The incident is a reminder of what to do - and not do - if you see a seal or sea lion on the beach.

In most cases of sick and injured marine mammals, like the harbor seals and sea lions more commonly seen on our coast, the Aquarium advises the public to obey marine mammal protection laws and let nature take its course. Pup mortality is a natural check on robust wild populations. These animals can also harbor bacteria responsible for leptospirosis, which is a harmful disease to humans and dogs.

“Concerned observers can call the Oregon Marine Mammal Stranding Network Hotline [541-270-6830] if a stranded animal is spotted,”

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