Stuck between a rock and a hard place: SSC’s Marine Mammal Rescue staff save a juvenile gray seal

Posted on March 15, 2024

By Michelle Dillon, Digital Marketing Specialist and Ashley Stokes, Director of Marine Mammal Conservation

The Seacoast Science Center Marine Mammal Rescue team quickly jumped into action to respond to a seal in distress the morning of March 13th. While that is not out of the ordinary, this case was a bit of an unusual one! As SSC was opening for the day around 10 am, a call came in from a gentleman who was out for a walk in Odiorne Point State Park. When he was out on the jetty at Frost Point, he noticed something moving down in the rocks. Once he realized it was a seal, he quickly called our Marine Mammal Rescue team at SSC to report.

Gray seal pup stuck in rocks at Frost Point jetty on 3.13.24.
A female gray seal pup stuck in the rocks at the Frost Point jetty in Odiorne Point State Park on 3.13.24 following extreme high tides earlier in the week.

Being essentially in our backyard, our team was able to quickly jump into action. We collected our gear and headed out to assess the situation, unsure of what to expect. The gentleman who reported the seal was kind enough to wait for our arrival, so he could bring us right down to the exact location of the seal. We quickly identified the animal in distress as a female gray seal pup that was stuck in one of the crevices along the jetty. It’s hard to say exactly when the animal got stuck. During normal tides, the jetty does not get covered with water. Therefore, our best guess is that during the recent extreme high tides that occurred between Sunday and Monday, in combination with storm surge, the young seal either gained access to, or was carried to, the top of the jetty where it then settled between the rocks and remained stuck between 24-60 hours.

“This little seal is lucky that she was spotted, and that the gentleman knew who to call, as there’s no doubt she would have eventually died in that crevice. The extreme high tides receded and there was no other way for her to get out,” said Ashley Stokes, Director of SSC Marine Mammal Conservation. 

Aside from her unfortunate circumstance, she appeared to be in good health—just tired from the ordeal and most likely dehydrated. The team quickly discussed a plan and got to work. The rescue portion was difficult, for a couple of reasons. First, this was a gray seal weanling; a species that is extremely aggressive from the day it is born. Unfortunately, these animals don’t understand that we are trying to help, so she was in high defense mode the entire time, vocalizing and snapping her teeth and jaw. However, our team is well trained to deal with these situations and equipped with protective gear, including thick gloves, since these seals have teeth similar to canines.

Female gray seal pup following extraction from the jetty by our SSC Marine Mammal Rescue team.
Female gray seal pup following extraction from the jetty by our SSC Marine Mammal Rescue team.

Second, after an initial attempt to pull her up using a net and blanket, we learned her hind flippers were wedged down in the rocks. The crevice she was in was also narrow and deep, allowing for only one team member to work at a time. These factors, combined with the aggression, complicated the effort. Finally, after approximately 30 minutes, we were able to shift her enough to free her flippers and slide a blanket underneath her body. This allowed the team to successfully extract her from the jetty. 

After a successful rescue, the SSC Marine Mammal Rescue team carry the crate with the female gray seal pup from the jetty.
After a successful rescue, the SSC Marine Mammal Rescue team carry the crate with the female gray seal pup from the jetty.

The seal pup was loaded into a crate and taken back to SSC. Upon arrival, we decided to give her some time to rest and decompress, as the rescue itself was a stressful ordeal for her. We then gave her a full medical exam and evaluation. The exam revealed significant dehydration and slight swelling in the hind flipper joints; neither of which were a surprising clinical finding. 

Stokes noted, “Thankfully, she didn’t have a pain response to her hind flippers being manipulated and examined, and was using her hind flippers normally, so it’s likely that it was just soft tissue swelling due to being wedged in the rocks for a period of time, as well as from the extrication itself. Other than that, she checked out great health-wise!”

Our team determined that the best course of action for her was to administer fluid therapy (subcutaneous and oral), along with electrolytes and glucose supplement. She then received a pink hind flipper tag with a number unique to her and to our organization (not a real-time tracker), so we can quickly identify her if she strands again. We were able to release this female gray seal pup following the treatment.

SSC Marine Mammal Rescue team administers oral fluid therapy, with electrolytes and glucose supplement to gray seal pup.
SSC Marine Mammal Rescue team administers oral fluid therapy, with electrolytes and glucose supplement to gray seal pup.

We have posted a video to our YouTube channel that includes a series of clips and photos highlighting the response, rescue, treatment and release of this gray seal pup.

Female gray seal pup rescued, treated and released by our SSC Marine Mammal Rescue team.
Female gray seal pup rescued, treated and released by our SSC Marine Mammal Rescue team.

Our marine mammal response team has been in operation since January 1, 2014 and this was our first-ever response to a live seal stuck in a jetty! Marine mammals, including seals, are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972. It is important for the public to follow federal guidelines, staying 150 feet away from these sentinels of the sea. Our team is fully trained and permitted to intervene when needed.

If you spot a seal or other marine mammal that has hauled out or stranded on the shore, alive and dead, please call our reporting hotline at 603-997-9448. Please support our program, which is funded only by donations, fundraising events, and small grants. Our team’s response territory spans from the ME/NH border, south to Essex, MA. 

To learn more about SSC Marine Mammal Rescue’s work, click here;  follow our response cases on Facebook.

Seacoast Science Center will be CLOSED today: Friday, April 5, 2024. Our utilities are currently down and need to get repaired before we are able to open for visitors. Thank you for your understanding. 

CLOSED today.

Seacoast Science Center is closed today due to inclement weather.