By Emma Boskovski ~ In early January, New York Marine Rescue Center led a talk entitled “Seals of Long Island,” at Fire Island National Seashore Visitor Center about the intricacies of how these marine mammals live along Long Island’s shores and how we can better serve as their defenders.
The New York Marine Rescue Center is a non-profit organization that strives to advocate within the community regarding New York’s marine environment through methods like rehabilitation, research and education. Nicole Valenti, educator and volunteer coordinator for the New York Marine Rescue Center led the discussion.
“When a seal is stranded, we first determine if the animal does in fact need to come back for rehabilitation,” Valenti said. “Often if an animal appears to be in good condition, it will be left in the state it was found in and will be monitored.”
Since 1996, The New York Marine Rescue Center has rehabilitated and released over 762 seals. According to Valenti, most releases are open to the public.
“The rehabilitation process varies case by case,” said Valenti. “Common cases of natural stranding in seals that require additional attention are viruses and parasites. We most often see seal pox as the cause of stranding in relation to natural problems.”
Valenti drew a parallel between seal pox and chicken pox, explaining that the seal experiences pain related to red, irritated spots that appear all over their body, just like humans do when diagnosed with chicken pox. She also said that the infection is very contagious between seals.
“Any time that we encounter a seal with seal pox, they are quarantined,” Valenti said. “We use all different types of restraining gear and feeding gear that isolates the virus and ensures that all other treated seals are safe from contagion.”
Dehydration is often a large issue for seals in relation to other natural problems they may encounter, according to Valenti.
“Dehydration and malnutrition go hand-in-hand,” Valenti said. “Seals receive hydration from the food they eat, so if they are not eating properly, they end up becoming malnourished and dehydrated which can evidently affect their health.”
According to Valenti, seals are solitary animals that tend to congregate together based on food availability.
“In regard to human interaction, we most often encounter seals affected by pollution, entanglement, habitat destruction, or contact with a blunt force such as a boat strike,” Valenti said.
Valenti said that after rehabilitation occurs, the seals return to nature is monitored by The New York Marine Rescue Center for research purposes.
“Rehabilitated animal release and tracking are among our primary goals,” Valenti said. “Upon release, seals most often receive a flipper tag on their left hind flipper. In rare cases, seals will receive a satellite tag. Only a few are given per year because of the expense, but this allows us to track their whereabouts.”
According to Valenti, the satellite tag results indicate that seals along Long Island’s shorelines head north in cold weather.
“While human interaction is often a large reason strandings occur, there are many things that we can do to help,” Valenti said. “Volunteering is among one of the most important ways that you can help. Otherwise, just being a citizen and reporting stranding of animals who may require attention can be the most impactful way to get involved.”
Valenti said that in our area, New York Marine Rescue Center hopes to educate Long Islanders who to contact upon encountering a sick or injured marine animal. She said that education is the most impactful way to accomplish this goal.
“I certainly feel that this talk was educational,” said Catherine Gluchowski, a 20-year-old resident of Bayport. “While some of what was discussed I knew, most of the content was fresh information to me. There is so much to be done that can increase our knowledge of how to best interact with marine life and I think that this talk is a great option for Long Islanders who aim to gain more knowledge.”
The New York Marine Rescue Center can be contacted at (631)-369-9829 if a stranding is to be reported.
Editor’s Notes: New York Marine Rescue Center continues this lecture series on marine life with “Marine Stranding Rescue/Response: Turtles, Seals, and Dolphins” at Fire Island National Seashore Visitor Center on Sunday, February 9, 2020 from 1 to 2 p.m. Visit this website’s community calendar for more information.
A professional photographer, who adhered to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Marine Life Viewing Guidelines, took the image illustrating this article. Fire Island News urges our readers to get acquainted with and respect these guidelines in both the viewing and taking photos of seals and all marine life that inhabit the waters. Learn more at: https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/topic/marine-life-viewing-guidelines?fbclid=IwAR3NOUrWf7SR6IgmGBGvUe4YHCXyEWtevMeTMNUlnG0OaPCBJxt39GA7zTM#guidelines-&-distances
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