Arctic seals in Florida – 09/19/2006

  • November 25, 2013 at 3:16 am #1294

    Arctic seals a surprise to Florida scientists

    As if the inflatable hood on their head and red balloon-like air bag
    they blow out their nose weren’t weird enough.

    Two Arctic seals strayed about 2,500 miles from their native icy
    waters, making their way to South Florida beaches this past weekend
    to stump biologists more versed in manatee than seal proclivities.
    “The reason why they’re doing this, we don’t have a clue. It’s
    unusual,” said Greg Bossart, a marine mammal pathologist at Harbor
    Branch Oceanographic Institution in Fort Pierce, where the seals are
    being treated. “They’re suffering from very severe dehydration.
    They’re in extremely guarded condition.”

    The Arctic hooded seals washed up a day apart: a 6-month-old female
    on Saturday in Hobe Sound and a 4-month-old pup on the beach in Palm
    Beach County on Sunday.

    Passersby found the two roughly 60-pounders and called state
    wildlife officials, Bossart said.

    While it’s not unheard of — Arctic hooded seals venture far from
    their mothers just days after being born — it’s rare they make it
    so far south.

    Bossart recalls one reaching South Florida about 25 years ago.
    They’ve also been reported as far as the Caribbean Sea, where other
    seal sightings have been reported earlier this summer.
    Another hooded seal pup stranded Friday in Wrightsville Beach, N.C.

    It’s being treated at a Virginia aquarium.

    Hooded seals mostly keep to Newfoundland and Greenland, where they
    grow to about six feet long and 1,000 pounds.

    “Their regular distribution is usually not very far south of New
    Jersey,” said Liz Tuohy-Sheen, a biologist with National Marine
    Fisheries Service.

    Typically, one or none strand in the Southeast United States and
    Caribbean each year. The last cluster of southbound seals — seven
    of them — washed up in 2000. Eight have shown up so far this year,
    according to the National Marine Fisheries Service.

    It’s been a summer of odd migrations. In early August, an adult
    manatee made national news when boaters spotted it lumbering down
    the Hudson River in Manhattan.

    Theories as to why the seals are straying include changes in food
    supply, global warming melting ice caps, an atypical birthing year
    or recent hurricanes.

    Harbor Branch biologists hope to nurse the two seals back to health,
    then transfer them to a rehabilitation center in New Jersey for
    eventual release back up north. But their chances for survival
    appeared slim Monday.

    “They ate a lot of sand, trying to flush that out of them,” Bossart
    said. “Their prognosis is extremely guarded.”
    Seals often swallow sand when stressed out by approaching people.

    Biologists say beachgoers should stay away from seals if they spot
    them stranded and call state wildlife officials.
    “They pack a nasty bite and they have very sharp teeth,” Tuohy-Sheen

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