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Baby seal with neck entangled in plastic rescued in New Jersey amid annual pup migration

Marine Mammal Stranding Center rescues gray seal pup tangled in plastic
Marine Mammal Stranding Center rescues gray seal pup tangled in plastic 00:23

Every year, baby gray seals embark on a journey from their birth sites in New England and Canadian waters to the New Jersey area. But that trek isn't without struggle, and last week, one seal pup was found in "urgent" condition — with plastic wrapped around its neck. 

The Marine Mammal Stranding Center said they received a call about the exhausted pup on the afternoon of Feb. 15 after it was found in Beach Haven, New Jersey. When their team arrived, the organization said it found the seal "entangled around the neck by the plastic overwrap from a case of bottled water." 

They took the young female gray seal to their facilities, where they removed the plastic and found the animal to be "thin...lethargic and suffering from gastrointestinal issues." A full exam was completed for veterinarians to determine if there are any other underlying issues, and the seal was fed formula and electrolytes. 

The Marine Mammal Stranding Center has rescued a grey seal pup from a New Jersey beach after it was found entangled in plastic.  Marine Mammal Stranding Center/Facebook

That same day, another pup, a male thought to be between 2 and 3 weeks old, was found on Brigantine Beach – so young he was still 80% covered in his birth coat, the center said. Rescuers believe he hadn't yet learned to eat on his own, as gray seals typically only nurse for roughly two weeks before becoming fully independent. 

The baby seals were discovered in New Jersey as "the annual grey seal pup migration is in full swing in our area," the stranding center said. "These pups are born starting December through February, and only nurse for about two weeks before their mothers wean them. Many pups are now making the long swim from their birthing grounds in New England and Canadian waters to New Jersey." 

The journey is over 300 miles, the center said. 

This rescued pup belongs to the United States' only stock of gray seals, a protected species under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. There are roughly 450,000 gray seals in that stock, known as the western North Atlantic stock, which resides in North Atlantic waters and includes Canada. 

The animals can typically live between 25 to 35 years, but face serious threats. Entanglement is perhaps the greatest threat, NOAA says, with many of the animals becoming twisted up in fishing gear and other marine debris. Pollution, illegal harassment, oil spills and vessel strikes are also dangers. 

"Once entangled, seals may drown if they cannot reach the surface to breathe, or they may drag and swim with attached gear for long distances," NOAA says. "This can ultimately result in fatigue, compromised feeding ability, or severe injury, which may lead to reduced reproductive success and death." 

The stranding center said it typically sees surges in seal intakes around this time of year. 

"They are all typically born during a short window of time and migrating at the same time," the center said. "They have been spotted as far south as the Outer Banks, NC already this year." 

News of the young female pup's rescue came along with a more grim announcement from the center — a young male gray seal that was found stranded and wandering down the road in Ocean City, New Jersey, earlier this month had died. The seal was found between 4 to 6 weeks old and was believed to have travel more than a quarter of a mile on shore. 

The center said the underweight pup had been treated for parasites and a possible respiratory infection and that they were hopeful he would be OK after he started eating smaller fish on his own. 

"However, on the evening of February 19th the pup showed a very sudden and rapid decline, and despite the extraordinary efforts by our staff to resuscitate him, the pup passed away only a few minutes later. A full necropsy will be performed to provide insight on what may have caused him to go down so quickly," the center said. "This is always the hardest part of animal rescue." 

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