November 25, 2013 at 3:16 am #1294MikeKeymaster
Arctic seals a surprise to Florida scientists
BY JIM WAYMER
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
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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