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Saturday, September 28, 2013

Wolf Hollow Harbor Seal Release

This morning I was lucky enough to be invited to watch a harbor seal release. Wolf Hollow Wildlife  Rehabilitation Center here on San Juan Island cares for orphaned and injured wildlife found throughout the San Juan Islands and Skagit County, and harbor seal pups are one of the main animals they care for during the summer months. Some years, the rehabilitate twenty or more seals, but this year only resulted in five seals to release. The final two seals, nicknamed Leto and Phanes, were set free today from a beach on San Juan Island.

Wolf Hollow volunteers carry the two harbor seals down to the beach
The crates are opened simultaneously (with a camera set up in front to capture their first moments of freedom)
Leto, the darker of the two seals, was found alone on a beach in Ferndale. He came to Wolf Hollow in early August dehydrated and lethargic, weighing just 15 pounds. He now weighs over 50 pounds and is tagged with both a flipper tag and a hat tag marked C5. He was the bolder of the two seals, poking his nose out almost immediately to survey his new surroundings.

He spent a little bit of time exploring the beach before diving into the shallows.

Phanes, on the otherhand, did not seem interesting in leaving his carrier. After several minutes he was given a little encouragement by having his cage tilted, but he climbed right back in. Finally, he had to be somewhat unceremoniously dumped out onto the beach:

Phanes was the lighter seal tagged with the H2 hat tag. He was found near Poulsbo at the end of July. At about seven days old, he was also around 15 pounds, and in addition to being thin had numerous puncture wounds all over his body. He's been the more timid of the two seals all throughout his rehab, but eventually he too found the courage to enter the water.

After doing a little exploring on their own, the two pups met up out in the bay. Previous tracking experiments have shown they might stay together for a day or so, but will probably split up after that.

"Do you know where we are?" "No, do you?"

After the seals were off on their own, a few of us who watched the release went to get a tour of the Wolf Hollow facility. While they are never open to the public, they're busiest during the summer months with lots of baby animals, and do offer some special tours during the off-season when there are fewer animals to be disturbed. Here's a list of the animals currently in their care, not including a red-breasted sapsucker that was a recent arrival, and with the two harbor seals we saw released not yet subtracted:

The first part of tour covered the harbor seal facility where Leto and Phanes had just come from. These are the tubs under heat lamps where new animals are kept isolated from one another when they're first brought in:

Later, they're transferred to a series of outdoor pools as their rehabilitation progresses:

We saw special enclosures designed for otters, waterfowl, and deer, though their actual usage can vary a lot depending on what kinds of animals are in care. The largest enclosure is the eagle flight cage, which currently houses two young female bald eagles that will be released in a few months:

There are also numerous songbird aviaries, like the one pictured below. They're heavily meshed both to keep out racoons and minks and to protect the birds from injuring their wings or feathers on the cages. Pretty much all the enclosures are also surrounded by natural vegetation to keep the animals in the most "wild" setting possible and as much away from human activity as they can be.

In addition to being a wildlife rehab center, Wolf Hollow also provides outreach and education about local wildlife. As part of these programs, they have a few educational birds who were too injured to be returned to the wild but were suitable for lives in captivity. One of them was Mardona, a red-tailed hawk, who came into the facility at just a few months old and is now over 15 years of age:

Another of the permanent residents is Aspen, a rough-legged hawk who many years ago flew into some power lines on Lopez Island:

The third bird was an educational bird in training, a northern saw-whet owl who was still quite shy. We just got a glimpse of this small owl, but they're so amazing to see up close.

It was cool to see our local wildlife rehab center in action today. I've been familiar with their work for years but hadn't ever had the opportunity to see a release or visit their facility before. If you want to learn more about them, check out their website, follow them on Facebook (you'll see some cute animals pictures!), or see if you can help out by donating anything from their Amazon wish list.


Peggy Mauro said...

This is such a great feature about the release and a peak inside Wolf Hollow. I absolutely love that we have this rescue/rehab group on San Juan Island. I donate snacks for the staff whenever I can, and I always wondered what went on behind the scenes there. Thanks so much for your photo story and to all those blessed humans that do such good work with our fellow habitat that need their help.

RG said...

A great operation! Thanks for the inside looks.

Unknown said...

I initially found Phanes in Poulsbo. I live right on the water and caretake a dock facility. I am very used to otters and seals, birds, etc. We always have massive amounts of seals and otters that sleep/rest on the dock at night. When I first saw Phanes he was swimming around crying. He did this for a period of 2-3 days,resting in places such as a rope, the pillars on the dock, and finally the beach when he was to exhausted. It took massive amounts of pressure for someone to do anything. Thankfully someone from West Sound Wildlife did and he came here! As you can see it worked out for him. He has a chance to survive! Good job Wolf Hollow!!