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Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Six seal pups released at Blue Shutters Beach

High drama at high tide
Text and photos by Will Collette

Lined up at the starting gate...
Once again, I thank the Mystic Aquarium’s Marine Animal Rescue program for all their hard work in saving injured or abandoned critters, mostly seals and sea lions, healing them and returning them to the sea, usually from one of Charlestown beaches.

Their September 13 release was the most dramatic I’ve seen yet – and I’ve seen maybe a dozen releases. Instead of setting one or two seals free, this time the Aquarium brought six harbor seals, all about 4-5 months old, sleek and beautiful for a simultaneous release. Each was given the name of a gem stone (e.g. Amethyst).

This was a very large number of seals, maybe one of their largest releases. The most I have seen them handle at once was four in September 2014. The event also came with some surprises.

...and they're off! Mostly.
Well, this event drew a big crowd, more than I’ve seen at any release, numbering at least 200 by my estimation. As the seals were brought out and lined up in their travelling cages, the crowd got very excited, especially the kids.

But I could see that the Aquarium staffers trying to maintain a safe perimeter were a bit nervous. It was their job to give the pups a clear route to the water and to keep a safe distance between the seals and the crowd.

After a very brief talk, the cages were opened. Quartz was the first to go and enthusiastically did the seal’s equivalent of a sprint to the water, dove into the surf and then lingered about 30 feet out, waiting for his (or her) comrades.
Sleek and shiny!
With varying levels of speed and enthusiasm, four more young seals made their way down the beach to the delight of the crowd and hit the surf.

That’s when the drama began. Sapphire didn’t want to go and wouldn’t leave the cage until the staff carefully tilted the cage until Sapphire was basically dumped out.

Herding Sapphire. I'll hare to try this technique the next time I try to herd our cats.
Sapphire still didn’t want to go and three of his (or her) fellow pinnipeds joined in. It seems as if they were not going to leave without Sapphire and they tried to come back up the beach, perhaps with their own idea of a seal rescue in mind.

This caused some scrambling by the safety-conscious Mystic staff who tried to both move the crowd and also block the seals returning from the surf to maintain safe separation.

Meanwhile, back up the beach, Mystic staffers put their shields together to form an inverted wedge shape to try to gently nudge Sapphire to move down the sands and into the surf.

While this was fun for the spectators to watch, it seemed to me like the Mystic staffers were not enjoying this strategic contest as much.

Mystic staff mount a shoreline defense. Similar scenes at several points along the beach.
I’ll bet the staff are going to have a little meeting on the merits of releasing so many seals at once. Nonetheless, they got the job done

They coaxed Sapphire and the other seals back into the water for their new lives of freedom in the sea.

SIDE NOTE: the weather and conditions at Blue Shutters were ideal. Perfect temperature, bright blue sky and great visibility. As I looked over the stretch of ocean to Block Island and then looked through my 200 mm lens, I got a nice view of the new Deepwater Wind turbines, America’s first offshore wind turbine farm. 

They are on the other side of Block Island from the vantage point of Blue Shutters but tall enough to be visible. See photo below.

I’m sure that some of Charlestown’s anti-wind power NIMBYs, especially those who believe all the pseudo-science nonsense about wind turbines causing health problems, shudder at the thought. My reaction was, first, that they looked fine out there and, second, to hope for the best for all the new green energy sources we will need to tap to stop and hopefully reverse man-caused climate change. 

You can see the three turbines stretched across the skyline with Block Island in the foreground.