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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Hershey and Brunswick go home

Mystic Aquarium does a double seal release at the Charlestown Breachway Beach
By Will Collette

It was a gorgeous day at the beach for the release of two rescued harbor seal pups who were cared for at the Mystic Aquarium’s Marine Mammal Rescue program. I’ve been to several releases, but this was the first double release. Plus, at five months old, these were the youngest seals I’ve seen sent back into the wild.

There was a large and enthusiastic crowd on hand including a lot of young school kids, many of whom take classes in marine life at the Aquarium itself. Of course, the kids left after the release was over, to Planning Commissar Ruth Platner’s great relief.

Hershey leads the way to the water
At the other seal releases I’ve attended, the seal is carried in a large kennel container to a spot at the high tide line. After some brief and usually inaudible remarks by the Mystic staff, the container is opened and the seal scoots down to the water, dives in, maybe looks back a time or two and then makes a beeline for Block Island to the applause of the on-lookers.

Not this time. While Hershey and Brunswick (the names they were given at Mystic) eagerly left their containers and shimmied down the beach at a moderate clip, they weren’t really that anxious to leave. 

Brunswick changes his mind ("Do I really hafta go?")
Hershey, the female, dove right in but stayed close. Brunswick, the male, was not so sure. Hershey stayed close by and almost seemed to be trying to coax Brunswick into the water. I think I heard her making the seal equivalent of chicken clucking sounds (“buk-buk-buk-buk, CHICKEN!).

Finally, Brunswick took the plunge, literally, swam a few feet out, but then scurried back onto the beach. With Hershey swimming patiently nearby, and the Mystic volunteers warily watching to see if Brunswick planned to move into the crowd (a safety no-no), Brunswick went back into the water.

Hershey stuck around to coax Brunswick back into the water.
But no beeline for Block Island. Both seals swam parallel to shore, very close in. They briefly checked out the fishermen on the rocks at the Breachway, but but then took off in opposite directions. Hershey broke right while Brunswick broke left. Because both seals were still very close to shore, the Mystic staff and volunteers fanned out with their shields to ensure the safety of on-lookers. 

The Mystic staffer nearest me warned members of the crowd that seals do bite and they can carry some nasty diseases on their teeth. That prompted the guy standing next to me to mutter, “The D word – I’m outta here.”

Staying close....hoping for fish?
This minor drama played out for a short while until finally the seals headed out into deep water.

The Mystic Marine Animal Rescue program is a truly wonderful thing. They take injured animals from all over New England and nurse them back to health using state-of-the-art veterinary science. Once healed and ready to go back into the wild, they bring the seals to Charlestown for release. Both of these seals are tagged with electronic monitors so marine scientists can learn more about their movements in the wild.

They used to use Blue Shutters Beach as the release site, but for the last several releases, they switched to the state beach at the Breachway.

To learn more about the Mystic program and to donate, click here