Stranded seal gets first-class rescue in Unalaska

Andy Dietrick checks in on the ringed seal before her flight to Anchorage. (Laura Kraegel/KUCB)

Late on a Friday afternoon, Melissa Good sits on her front step filling out labels for a dog carrier. The crate is not for her dog. It holds a yearling ringed seal.

“He looks like he’d be nice and light and fluffy like a fluff ball, but not the case,” she said. “He’s heavier than he looks. He’s really dense! About two feet long about 30 pounds.”

Good works for SeaGrant and she’d been on the lookout for the sick animal for awhile.

The seal appeared in Unalaska in late February, but before Good had the authorization to pick it up, it vanished. She thinks a fox scared the animal back into the water.

A couple of days later, Good was doing routine water sampling in a bay and there it was. It looked lethargic. Birds were pecking at its fur.

SeaGrant’s Andy Dietrick and Melissa Good carry the ringed seal to a truck. (Laura Kraegel/KUCB)

“I wrapped it in my jacket and carried it down the beach a little way until I had cell phone reception and got someone to come down with a kennel,” Good said. “We’re going to get this seal out on the 4 o’clock freighter.”

A half hour before the flight, Good grabbed the crate off the back porch and carried it to a truck and started the engine.

She drove across town to the airport to check the seal in for the flight.

“He will be flying to Anchorage free of charge — in first class even,” Good said.

Together the seal and carrier clocked in at 49 pounds. Paperwork was filed, labels were stuck onto the crate and he was ready to fly.

While waiting for the flight, Good decided to name the seal Jack.

But at the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward, veterinarians say Jack is actually a girl.

As with all cargo, the ringed seal is taken to the tarmac before being loaded onto the freighter. (Zoë Sobel/KUCB)

Carrie Goertz is one of the vets there. She says this seal is small for her species.

“She is having some challenges maintaining an appropriate body temperature, so we are giving her limited swims and letting her be dry and warm up,” Goertz said.

Jack is in better shape than a lot of other ringed seals the SeaLife Center has admitted. Even so, Goertz thinks it’ll take Jack at least a couple of months to recover.

Goertz says between five and 15 live animals are admitted to the center for care each year. And Jack is the first one this year.

But what was a ringed seal doing in Unalaska? Goertz doesn’t have an easy answer.

“It could be a matter of just being off course or just looking for a new area to explore,” Goertz said.

Kind of like a kid running off to join the circus. For now, she is focused on getting Jack back to full strength.

As with all strandings, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration makes the final call of what happens to the animal. But in this case, Goertz thinks it’s unlikely she’ll be released into the wild. When she’s healthy, Jack will be sent to live in a marine mammal center.

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