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Monday, July 19, 2010

7/15 Are you my mother? The day Island Bound was adopted by a newborn harbor seal.

We left Forward Harbor yesterday bound for the double rapids of Whirlpool Rapids and Green Point Rapids. In order to hit the slack tides we were underway by 500am but happy to be under blue skies. The rapids were simple and strait forward and by 1000am we were listening to the anchor chain rattle into 20 feet of water in Handfield Bays inner cove. We had passed another boat coming out of the cove on our way in but as the anchor settled the small cove fell silent.

Almost immediately we heard a noise. Bill said it sounded like a person trying to make bird calls. We could hear something on the other side of a small islet slowly moving towards us. In a minute or two we could see something moving through the water. An otter? As Bill went below turning off switches I stayed topside with the binoculars listening and watching. Soon I could make out a tiny seal pup. He was restlessly working the cove from end to end. Ceaselessly crying out a desperate pitiful bleating noise.

I watched him for a long time and wondered where his mother was. Was she dead? Had she abandoned him? He sounded so lost and scared. I didn't even know baby seals made noise. I also know that momma seals often leave their young on rocks and beaches while they hunt but man was he was really howling.

Knowing there was little I could do, after about 20 minutes I finally went below. A few minutes later the noises got louder until it sounded like he was just outside of the boat. Worried and feeling sorry for the little guy I went up again and walked the deck looking trying to find him.I honed in on his mewling, looked over the side and found him on the starboard side of the bow. He was fluttering his little flippers and holding himself up next to the boat suckling on the cove stripe! I quickly tippitoed back to the cockpit and called to Bill to hurry and come up. He wasn't going to believe this!

The little guy continued his way around and around the boat. Suckling and slurping and doing his best to find dinner. All the while making little crying noises and sighs. He was an all over speckled gray color with dark gray fins and head. He was perhaps 20 inches long and roughly 2/3 of that wide and he still had about 3 inches of umbilical cord hanging off his fat little belly. Have you ever seen a "seal point" Siamese cat? Now I know exactly where that description came from.

He was so beautiful. He worked his way around and around but seeming to prefer the stern over the bow and the bow over the sides. He was so persistent I began to think his mom must have been gone for a long time. Maybe she was dead? We knew not to touch him but how do you not touch him and get him to not touch the boat? Was this suckling going to cause his mom to abandon him if she hadn't already? Was he going to get sick from the paint? Lots of questions and no answers.

Soon I settled in to read and he finally quieted. I just couldn't stand it so soon I went to look again and found him floating off to port completely still. My heart fell. Was he dead? I yelled to Bill. " Hon, I think he's......dead." Then suddenly he took in a couple of snuffling breaths and then again settled back to his nap. I tried to ignore him and leave him be but he was sooo cute. And how often do you get to babysit a seal pup?

The next time I checked on him he was sound asleep, snuggled up against the boat on the lee side. As I read my book and watched him the tide slowly pushed him along the length of the boat, off the aft end and out into open water. He floated the current about 15 feet off our stern then suddenly woke himself up with a snort and a start, turned and scanned for the boat, gave out a cry and came swimming back as fast as his little flippers could carry him. Then he suckled for a minute or two and then settled in again before falling quickly asleep. He did this numerous times. Each time he got too far away he would wake with a start and frantically hustle back. When he swam back he acted so scared. I had to laugh, the panic made him swim so a cartoon. His little flippers fluttering away and his head held up high out of the water. At one point an eagle perched in a nearby tree and I slipped into momma mode hollering at Bill that I was worried the eagle was going to swoop down and snatch him. He assured me he was too big to be picked off by an eagle but I wasn't completely convinced.

After almost three hours we noticed another seal in the cove and then suddenly he was gone. We took a dingy ride and dropped the crab pot and then came back to the anchorage to find another boat had joined us. If you know me at all you know I was beside myself in wanting to tell them all about the miraculous encounter. While they finished setting up their stern tie i saw that the pup was back so I radioed them and told them about our amazing furry visitor and asked them if they wanted to row over so their daughters could take a peek. Shortly the dad rowed quietly over and we all gawked as the little guy slept.

When he sleeps he folds his two front flippers under his chest and the back two fins fold over each other and tuck down under his belly until he is curved like a little shrimp. His head stays right on the surface, black shiny nostrils opening and closing with his breath. Each inhalation raises his arched back up and then he slowly settles deeper into the water again until his next breath. By this time I had begun to worry that he was imprinting on Island Bound. What was he going to do when we left? What would all this gawking do? Was it going to hurt him to watch? Should we try and scare him away? When would mom be back? Our guests returned to their boat and we all quieted down.

We had seen mom off and on but the little guy just stayed with IB. Later I heard one of the daughters next door exclaiming that the pup was swimming to their boat. Bill asked me if I was jealous! Imagine! I actually thought it was good for him to willingly decide that IB wasn't the place to be. We went off to sleep and the next morning it was silent again.

In the morning I saw the youngest girl in her jammies leaning over the edge of their boat and saying good morning to him as he fluttered next to their boat. Then we and the other boat were busy getting ready to raise anchors. As I began to raise our anchor I watched the pup as they raised theirs. He began to get agitated and tried to climb on their anchor chain. Then flung himself on the anchor itself. He slipped off and they continued raising it. When they began to motor out of the cove you could see his panic. Swimming for all he was worth and crying out he tried to follow. We were underway too by now. The pup just couldn't keep up and seemed to give up as he watched them motor off. Then he rounded towards us, saw Island Bound moving too and raised his head out of the water, flippers a flurry of motion as he hightailed it back towards us. Bill had IB at about 3 or 4 knots by then and we passed the poor pup by. He fell in behind us, eyes wide, crying , blinkid his eyes a few times and seemed to decided it was a lost cause and settled down into the water.

My heart was breaking as we motored away. Off the next point we saw another seal headed towards the cove. I hope it was mom. Maybe we should have left as soon as he came to the boat? Maybe the boat we saw leaving when we first got there had the same experience? Will he go to every boat that he sees? Will it get him killed? We never touched him but would the scent of the boat and the paint and the gray water cause his mom to abandon him? Will all this scare him for life Poor little guy could have the mother of all abandonment complexes?

I missed him immediatly and it made me miss Boo. Maybe if he is lucky no boaters will come to that little cove for a few days, let him bond with mom and learn how to be a seal. I will have to trust in nature and hope that he is fine and that his mom takes good care of him. Hmmmm, maybe a kitten in Mexico?

Love, kat

1 comment:

  1. What a heart breaking story, I hope the little guy is alright. You were very strong not to "try to help" him.
    Just one question...Where are the pictures?