Firefighters in Redwood City, California, got a call about a lost visitor in a parking deck. It was a northern fur seal baby without a mother — a true fish out of water.
The firefighters rescued the pup — which they named Santos — and took him back to the fire station where he was picked up by the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito for monitoring and treatment.
"Northern fur seals spend their entire lives way off continental shelf and are rarely ever seen," Giancarlo Rulli, marketing and communications associate for the center, told MNN. "They are born on far-out islands and basically spend their lives at sea. For an animal to come to shore, there could be something potentially wrong with the patient or it was separated from its mother and hasn’t the developed skills to be on its own."
Initially, they gave the pup alone time for a day to let it decompress.
"We were letting it relax because there was so much human interaction," Rulli says. "We were giving it its space and letting it settle. They we'll see what its long term prognosis will be."
Santos the rescued northern fur seal rests at The Marine Mammal Center. (Photo: © The Marine Mammal Center)
An exam by the center's veterinarians revealed the pup is a male in decent health and weighs 25 pounds.
They are currently tube-feeding Santos a fish formula three times a day. How the seal responds when volunteers offer fish will determine the next step. Veterinarians will decide later this week whether to move Santos from his temporary quarantine pen to a standard rehabilitation pool pen to continue his treatment. At that time, trained volunteer crews will begin to offer sustainably caught herring to try and induce normal foraging behavior, according to an update from the center.
"Unlike a California sea lion that seeks out food sources closer to shore, this young fur seal pup should be foraging well off the continental shelf in the open ocean," says Dr. Cara Field, staff veterinarian at The Marine Mammal Center. "Further diagnostic testing will hopefully tell us why this pup veered off course into San Francisco Bay before it came ashore. The Center is thankful for its partners at the Redwood City Police and Fire Department for helping quickly transfer this animal to a safe location to meet our trained responders Sunday morning."
They may also introduce him to the center's other northern fur seal pups in hopes it will learn to eat well on his own.
Because northern fur seals are born in June, it's likely that Santos is about 5 months old.
"It may have been separated from mom and took a wrong turn," Rulli says.
There's some speculation that the animal may have sought refuge in the garage, which is about a block and a half from a creek, according to SFGate.
Fortunately, the pup appears to be responsive and alert, though not overly active. If all goes well, the pup will eventually be released. It will depend on how quickly he starts to forage on his own and how healthy he is.
"We want to make sure we send it back with ample fat reserves and the ability to find appropriate food sources," Rulli says. "It could be weeks, it could be months."
The seal pup is incredibly cute and is attracting lots of headlines, but Rulli cautions that people should never approach wildlife in a similar situation.
"The best thing to do is to keep your distance if you're not using your zoom on your camera, you're too close," Rulli says. "It's important that people keep their distance and call their marine mammal responder or local police department."