Marine group monitors seal pup's health
A Riverhead marine group continued Tuesday to monitor the health of a male baby gray seal pup, found 10 days ago on a Montauk beach with its umbilical cord still attached.
Robert DiGiovanni, senior biologist and director of the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation, said tests on the pup show it most likely has pneumonia and broken ribs.
DiGiovanni said the pup is being fed a gruel, high in fish oil, by tube. Normally, the infant - about 3 feet long and weighing 35 pounds - would nurse from its mother, he said.
"It's highly problematic to try to match the mother's milk, so we're doing the best we can with a gruel of ground fish, high in fish oil," DiGiovanni said.
The pup, which is about 12 to 14 days old, eats about six times daily, he said.
One of the first steps in its recovery is adding weight, DiGiovanni said. "Then we want to see if it can be a little more active. The third step, which might take a couple of weeks, is to see if it can take solid fish."
The seal is recovering in a hospital tank and spends most of its time resting on a ledge near a pool of water, DiGiovanni said.
The goal is to return the seal to the ocean, and DiGiovanni said the foundation must walk a fine line between keeping the seal healthy and keeping it from becoming too dependent on humans.
Right now, that involves the blood tests, antibiotics and frequent feedings.
The seal was found on Feb. 12 near what foundation staff call the "seal haul out beach" at Montauk State Park, where seals commonly come out of the ocean during the winter and spring and where a small structure has been set up so people can look at them without disturbing them.
When the foundation got a call about the young seal on its 24-hour stranding hotline, callers were warned not to get too close, and a biologist was sent. Gray seals are a protected species, and people are not supposed to go within 50 feet of them. Foundation staff feared that people approaching a baby seal could scare away its mother.
While this was the first time a gray seal pup in distress was found on a Long Island beach, foundation officials said the gray seal population has been increasing in Long Island waters. Gray seals have been breeding off Nantucket for decades, and have been seen regularly off Long Island since the mid-1980s, DiGiovanni said.
The stranding hotline number is 631-369-9829. This is just about the end of the season for gray seals to give birth.