It started with a dogfish. I should have sensed that this was not an ordinary Friday walk on the beach. The dogfish had washed ashore, dead, and was being turned into sashimi by a seagull. I considered taking it home and using it as crab bait. Crabs love dogfish, but dogfish excrete through their skin and I thought better of picking it up bare-handed.
I ran into Claudia, who was walking her elderly dog, Moie, who eats seaweed. I showed them the dogfish, and we decided to let the seagulls have it. Claudia went home to pack- she's moving a half-mile down the beach, and I kept walking.
There was no one else on the beach- just me, lost in my thoughts, writing in my head, looking for agates. I was in such a meditative state that I almost tripped on her.
The work whistle at the Cherry Point refinery had just chimed "noon," and I found myself staring at a small seal pup. The pup was quite alive, but very thin. I've found dead ones before and I've seen eagles eating them. I also knew that their mothers can sometimes hunt for fish for long periods and then return for their babies to feed them, so I decided to keep vigil and watch this little one to make sure no one touched it.
I pulled out my iPhone and called my husband to let him know what I was doing, and then remembered that my phone could shoot video, so I shot this:
Then I sat and watched from a short distance. Friend and librarian Kathleen came and joined me. We kept Willows guests away, but let them take pictures. The little seal kept moving away from the incoming tide. It didn't want to get wet. This was a bad sign. Our water is cold- 50ºf at best, and a malnourished seal pup knew it couldn't keep warm in that water. The signs were pointing to abandonment. Seal moms don't normally leave their pups on populated beaches either.
I told Kathleen to keep watching the pup and I walked up to Claudia's house hoping she was home. I caught Claudia loading her car, but she agreed to check out the seal and get the ball rolling. Claudia is a member of the Marine Mammal Stranding Network. This volunteer network is made of folks who are trained to investigate and respond to stranded or dead marine mammals. Claudia called our Lummi Island network, and soon thereafter, my friend Cindy Dahlstrom arrived with orange cones and signs to keep people away from the seal while it tried to doze in the sun. Cindy and Claudia both agreed that it was malnourished and way too thin. There was a strong possibility that the mother was killed.
It is a sad and known fact that some fisherman will kill seals because they compete for the same fish. I do not understand this. There are enough fish in the sea for all of us. Seals are beautiful creatures and share this world with us. One look at that pup's face and I knew I would do anything I could to help.
I'm not going to write a novel here, so I'll spare all of the details, but know that so far this story has a happy ending. Cindy and two other island network folks: Dave and Mary joined the team on the beach. Cindy called the Wolf Hollow Wildlife Rehabilitation Center and found out that they had a "place" for the seal in their hospital. She called and got permission from the head of the stranding network to move the seal. The next problem was how to transport the pup from our beach on Lummi Island to Friday Harbor on San Juan Island. It was already 5:30pm. Many of us have boats. Old, slow boats. Our boat is currently leaking gas. Earlier in the day, I had taken a chance and called our neighbors, the Larsons, who have the fastest boat on the island, and told them about the seal. They had other plans, but to my shock and delight, they called me back, and agreed to make the trip to save the pup.
Cindy and the pup- placed in Cindy's large dog crate, joined the Larsons on the Wavelength and blasted off for Friday Harbor where a Wolf Hollow rescuer met them and they returned to our beach just as the sun set. I cried when I saw them leave from my deck, and I cheered when I saw the boat come home.
Cindy reported that Wolf Hollow named the pup Eliza. She is very young- maybe a few weeks old. She is dehydrated, too thin, has 18 rocks in her bowels, which they hope she will pass, (I watched her eat the rocks and didn't know how to stop her.) and she has a deep puncture wound in her left flipper. But she is improving and they are feeding her formula. Hopefully she will get big and strong, and they will release her into the wild again.
An amazing group of friends and neighbors came together to help Eliza. It was a beautiful and moving experience in so many ways. My husband, my brother-in-law (who was visiting) and I gave the Larsons some gas money to help defray the huge cost of fuel, and I donated to Wolf Hollow. But the best part of the whole experience has been feeling hopeful that one little life can be saved. Like the ripples of one pebble tossed into the sea, we can all make a difference. We touch our world through our actions and our words. I hope I can keep the ripples going, and the seals swimming. I hope you will do the same- if not for seals, for whoever crosses your path in a time of need.