WATCH: Chest cam captures race to save entangled seal

It is not an easy process to capture an entangled seal.

The gray seals here on Cape Cod tend to haul out on sand bars, giving them egress in multiple directions.

If they come up on the mainland, they usually stay close to the water line so they can quickly flush back into ocean just at the mere sight of us, much less when we are rushing at them full on with nets in hand.

Due to the size of the equipment on which rely, we target younger and smaller animals that are isolated away from the rest of the hauled out herd.

It’s important that we target the younger ones because they are at the greatest risk from the entanglements’ constriction as they grow larger over time. (We are developing new methods to capture and disentangle larger adults.)

Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge is a unique barrier beach off the coast of Chatham. We can land our boat on the west side of the island and make our way across the dunes to survey the herds unnoticed, searching for animals in distress.

On this particular rescue, colleague Brian Sharp (wearing the camera) and I made a plan to rush the seal from two directions.

Apparently, the crucial seconds it took to rear its head to assess my approach allowed for Brian to intercept and prevent the seal from a narrow escape.

We captured the animal with our nets, removed two distinct sets of line from around its neck and sent it back into its watery habitat.

This outing was one of two recent trips out to Monomoy’s popular haul-out to perform opportunistic land surveys. When we identified any accessible entangled seals, our goal was to safely capture them, remove the entangling gear, assess their health, treat any wounds, tag and release them back into the ocean gear-free, preventing an almost certain death. 

The Boston Globe accompanied our team out to Monomoy on another trip at the end of April in order to learn more about the seal entanglement issue. They produced a story titled “Team rescues seals on Cape from cruel death” with an accompanying video.  

Emboldened by our recent successful disentanglement rescues, we plan to increase our efforts and develop new techniques to address these life-threatening injuries. Not only do we hope to learn more about these entanglements in an effort to prevent them, but we will continue to have direct animal welfare impact by preventing slow, painful, and almost certain deaths of these often elusive creatures. 

--CTH

All activities were performed under a NMFS Stranding Agreement and/or NMFS permit# 18786

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