Atlantic City seal hospital gears up for busy season

January is slow season for beach tourists, but busy for the Marine Mammal Stranding Center to get calls for beached seals.

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Manatees Not Showing Oil, But Dying a Lot

Manatee, by Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute

So far no manatee has turned up oiled after the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill earlier this year. But 656 of the goofy, endangered marine mammals have turned up dead, according to the latest statistics from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission. That’s a devastating 13% of the population. The biggest problem was a cold spell last winter, but we may never know if or what role the oil had.

Cathy Beck, who manages the Manatee Individual Photo-identification System (MIPS),  says the oil spill was “extremely worrisome,” but so far no oiled manatees in the area where the oil spread. Their next concern is that the remaining oil will seep into the seagrass manatees eat. They’ll be on the lookout for any oil or dispersant residue this winter when they capture 10 or so (as they do each year) and give them a physical, including testing blood and tissue samples.

Defenders of Wildlife, Save the Manatees and other wildlife groups sued BP saying they violated the Endangered Species Act by harming the 27 threatened or  endangered species that live in the gulf.

Save the Manatees says that the big problem was the cold weather at the beginning of the year, which also lead to spectacular photos and record manatees counts (5,076) as the manatees crowded around natural springs and power plants to stay warm. “In total, more than 300 manatees are believed to have died from this lingering event, shattering the previous

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Will Asking People To Text for Dolphins Work Post-Haiti?

Last night dolphins near Taijii, Japan, were oblivious to the break The Cove won an Oscar. The film’s hero, former Flipper trainer Ric O’Barry, has been trying to show Taijii’s dolphin slaughter to the world for years, even if it meant walking around with a TV on his chest. So, it’s no surprise he’d use the stage for the dolphins. O’Barry unfurled a banner saying “TEXT DOLPHIN TO 44144”.

What was the reaction? Twitter immediately ricocheted the message around thousands of time–and it’s still bouncing. This USAToday blogger says the sign–and its inherent naughtiness–got him to look up the film. But over at the Huffington Post, they ran a story explaining “What Happens if You Follow Ric Barry’s Sign?” The answer: you’re signed up for text message updates, up to 30 a month. Call me old-fashioned, but I subscribe to his blog, so that’s about 30 more than I need.

The Haiti earthquake taught the public that the easiest way you can donate money to a cause is by texting a charity. I doubt that causes can ask you to just text them anymore without people worrying how much it will cost. The various charities send you back a confirmation before your cellphone carrier sends off your money, Charity Navigator explains. If you haven’t done it, you won’t know that.

O’Barry wants you to write a letter to Obama. Taiji was, predictably, annoyed at the win. Controversy is swirling, the LA Times says. But what else does controversy

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Where to See Orcas Not in Captivity

Shamu Rocks

Shamu Rocks, at Orlando Sea Worldcourtesy of Miss Quarel.

Want to see a killer whale that hasn’t been captured, trained to do tricks and kept in a tiny tank? You’ve got plenty of options other than Sea World, where their primary breeding male was involved in his third human death last week. Instead of seeing the 42 captive orcas go through their routines for your amusement, wouldn’t you rather see them doing what they do naturally?

The Pacific northwest is probably the best place to see killer whales in the world. The whales hang out just to the west of the San Juan Islands in Washington state. Tour boats run to and from the San Juans from all over the region, including from Seattle 90 miles to the south.

Better yet, you can even see them from the shore. Industrious whale lover Donna Sandstrom corralled a pack of agencies to set up The Whale Trail, a series of sites where you can see whales from the shore. Behavioral biologist and author Toni Frohoff, says land-based whale watching is “the ideal form,” because it doesn’t disturb the whales at all. Plus, it’s basically free.

The orcas can also be found up a little north in British Columbia. You can take boat trips off Vancouver Island that will let you see grizzly bears, eagles, sea lions and other kinds of whale. On the other side of Canada, Battle Harbor, Newfoundland has orca pods visit in September. Killer whales are spotted off Hokkaido, the rugged,

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Jersey Town Illegally Pushes Tired, Lost Seal Into Wrong Body of Water

A snow plow driver found a seal wandering in Woodbridge.Photo credit: Woodbridge Township

The adult harp seal that hauled out on Sixth Avenue in Port Reading, NJ, during the blizzard was lost and just wanted to rest, says Sheila Dean, co-founder of Brigantine’s Marine Mammal Stranding Center. Instead, animal control dragged him back to where he shouldn’t have been–two miles inland, up the Woodbridge River.

The Marine Mammal Protection Act bans anybody without proper training from handling seals. Town workers used what describes as “a mouthpiece normally used to capture dogs.” I’m pretty sure what they’re talking about is a noose pole, which could hurt the seal.

The right response would have been to call the Marine Mammal Stranding Center (609) 266-0538 (or, if you are in another state, another agency that’s part of the Marine Mammal Stranding Network). They would have come right away to assess the seal, Dean says.

“Because this animal is so far inland, we would have taken him and released him somewhere else,” Dean says. “He’s just a little bit lost and confused and really looking for a spot to rest.”

The location is about two miles up the Woodbridge River from the Arthur Kill, the waterway that separates New Jersey from Staten Island. Trained rescuers would have driven him there (about a mile by car.) Now no one knows where he is.

After swimming all the way from the arctic they like to lay out in the sun and build up their oxygen

Keep reading Jersey Town Illegally Pushes Tired, Lost Seal Into Wrong Body of Water

Harp Seal Stuck On Cliff Near Salem, MA, Rescued

The New England Aquarium Marine Animal Rescue Team and an alert seal-loving Beverly, MA, woman saved a harp seal who got stuck in the crevice of a  cliff Monday. The 50-pound, yearling female seal got stuck between rocks 20 feet above the water by the full moon high tide. Rescuers extricated the seal, who has gray mottled fur, from the rocks, checked her out and released her into Salem Sound.The seal was first seen on the cliff Sunday by neighbor Katie Duffy. Like many people, Duffy was worried seeing a seal out of water. She called rescuers who could thought the seal was doing fine. The seal population in the U.S. seems to be on the rise, leading to seals showing up in unusual places or high numbers. Just days ago the aquarium was checking out a seal who decided to visit downtown Boston.

The next day, however, the seal has gotten herself stuck in a tiny 2-foot deep trench. Duffey again called rescuers, who came out to find the seal  “in significant distress with labored breathing,” according to the Aquarium. “They were initially not optimistic about the seal’s prospects.” Aquarium staff Adam Kennedy and Ulrika Malone threw a blanket over her. She froze in fear and they were able to push her into a crate. When they finally got to examine her, they found she was fine. She just had some scratches.So they carried her crate down to a beach. At first she was still too scared to move,

Keep reading Harp Seal Stuck On Cliff Near Salem, MA, Rescued

Coney Island Marine Mammal Tour Yields Only Polar Bears

The New York City Parks Department’s first shot at a marine mammal tour from Coney Island yielded absolutely none of the hoped for seals, porpoises, dolphins or whales. But we were all shocked and delighted to see real Coney Island polar bears going into the water in bikinis on what turned out to be one of the coldest days of winter. their existence is well-documented on every cheesy local news, but I consider it a rarity to see one in person.

Our park ranger guides, Marissa and Andy, couldn’t have been more enthusiastic or knew more about what we might hope to see. They had us carefully watch a cluster of birds feeding on the surface to see if we saw any seal heads pop up. Andy told us about the loons and Brant Geese (Branta bernicla) wading by the polar bears. Marissa told us stories about dolphins she’s seen regularly patrolling east to west off the Rockaways. She told us about the time a seal hauled out on Coney Island and helpful New Yorkers dragged it back to sea–twice–before realizing it just wanted to sit on the sand.

 Wildlife watchers know there are no guarantees in this business. So several of us consoled ourselves with another Coney Island rarity: pizza. Maybe we’ll try one of the other tours to see seals around NYC.

Where to See Seals Where to See Wildlife in NYC

To see more animals go to

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NYC Starts Watching for Seals on Coney Island

Unbeknownst to New Yorkers, seals have been hanging around the harbor for ages. For the first time the Parks Department is going to try to show them off a marine mammal tour of Coney Island today. (And next week there’ll be a walk through Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx). If Parks is trying to convince New Yorkers seals are out there, it’s a risky move: you can’t be sure when they’ll show up.

But the Coney Island walk is billed as marine mammals. The most likely sighting is a porpoise, says a ranger I talked to. For seals, we could see harbor, harp, gray  or even ring seals. There’s also a chance of dolphins (common, white-sided) and whale (fin, minke or humpback). This season seals have been spotted in the Rockaways and the Bronx.

There are other, more reliable ways to see seals around New York City. Though I probably won’t be able to resist the chance to look for them someplace a subway ride away.

CRESLI (Coastal Research and Education Center of Long Island) has seal walks and boat tours on Montauk and a neat map of where you might see seals around Long Island. Seals also visit Sandy Hook in New Jersey from December to March. New York City Audubon has a cruise by a bunch of island on a water taxi. SKSA does kayak tours (wet or dry-suit required) on Long Island.

Where to See Seals Where to See Wildlife in NYC

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429 Dead Manatees found Last Year out of Population of 4,000; Only 37 Called Natural Deaths

A record 429 manatees were found dead off Florida last year out of a delicate population of just about 4,000. Could it be good news, reflecting a growing population? After all the the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission counted a record 3,807 manatees in their aerial surveys last year.

Not so fast, says the FWC:  “The situation is not that simple. Both the carcass totals and the annual counts from statewide aerial surveys are considered minimum numbers only, and they cannot be used to calculate long-term population trends.” In other words, both the 400 and 4,000 are wild-ass guesses (WAG)–though maybe scientific wild-ass guess (SWAG).

Last year was really cold, so the manatees crowded the power plants and springs like never before, making for stunning pictures (like the one here by  Tom Reinert) and high counts. But that’s not a complete or accurate count. The cold was a big factor: 56 died from cold stress, more than double the five-year average.

But there were record deaths from other factors, too. The data show only 37 were found to have died of natural causes. That doesn’t mean people killed all the rest. Humans were directly tied to 97 from boats, 5 from locks and gates and 7 from other human-related causes. The rest are somewhat a mystery and manatee advocates think humans are tied to many more. 114 were described as “perinatal,” just meaning they were very young, and they believe many are really tied to people.


Keep reading 429 Dead Manatees found Last Year out of Population of 4,000; Only 37 Called Natural Deaths

Ilya the Manatee May Be Going Wrong Way–Back to NYC

Ilya, the missing manatee, may be headed the wrong way–back up to New York City, instead of down south to Florida and the warm water he needs to survive. Someone saw what they thought was a manatee near Bayonne, NJ, but by the time rescuers came out, there was no animal, says Bob Schoelkopf, founding director of Brigantine’s Marine Mammal Stranding Center, which would rescue Ilya if they could just find and catch him.

FWC photo by Tom Reinert

Ilya, who is 16 and known for his missing tail chunk and a white scar on his head, befuddled scientists by swimming from his native Miami all the way up to Cape Cod this summer. Now he needs to get to waters at least 68 degrees–the Carolinas at this time of year–or he could die.

The last time anyone definitely saw Ilya was when he ate a crate of lettuce from biologists outside the Conoco Phillips refinery in Linden, NJ, last Friday. Then he disappeared into the dark, cold waters of the Arthur Kill, the 10-mile tidal estuary between New Jersey and Staten Island. If that was him near Bayonne, that puts him in the Kill Van Kull, a shorter passage that’s a few miles closer to the Statue of Liberty, Manhattan and the heavy traffic of the Port of Newark.

But rescuers are dubious it really was Ilya. It’s not so much that they think there’s a second manatee up here–though one did spend the summer in Raritan Bay.

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