by Justine Kibbe, Fishers Island Conservancy Naturalist
It would be a “novel” idea to call this seal Earl Gray. And, with a romantic notion, I will remark on the propitious timing – even synchronicity – of its stranding here on Fishers Island. The reporter and community member in me too, rallying behind the fact that we Island residents are stewards of our own “lands”, will be certain to jot this story with its deserved essence of pride.
Sunday afternoon January 22, 2017, School Principal Karen Goodwin sprinted across the airport runway to my neck of the woods, Silver Eel Cove. She had been out for a jog across the Sanctuary of Sands south side parallel to Elizabeth Field airport. Literally stumbling across a seal pup, she asked if I would come quickly to assess the situation. It has been a rare occurrence to find Harbor seals on the southwest side of the Island, and remembering a Gray seal pup was found on Isabella Beach on January 31 last year at this time, I began to imagine it was perhaps the same species.
And as with all small islands and supposedly little events, timing is huge – even remarkable. Just as a washed up Curvier’s beaked whale a few years back would help to announce the importance of community-based monitoring (Citizen Science) for our Island and residents, so too, a Gray seal pup can draw much-needed attention and public awareness to several important areas of concern and interests here as well.
Fishers Island should be proud of its surrounding lush Eel Grass meadows. Both the Fishers Island Conservancy as well as the Henry Ferguson Museum bridge closely with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and the Nature Conservancy, Long Island regarding the state of surrounding sea grass. Southold would agree we are a “gem” with healthy habitat between Sounds – a refuge too; so it would certainly appear this very day.
Both Karen and I remarked that the exact proximity of this young seal’s “landing” were the very coves and sands that the School and Conservancy see as a future sanctuary and stewardship classroom with an afterschool program launched this year and science classes that embrace this very location.
Over the years it is difficult not to notice, though, the misuse and degradation of such cherished sites on Fishers Island. Often defaced with deep ruts of tire treads, the drivers of vehicles upon this sandy stretch must be made aware of the opportunity and demand to be respectful of returning wildlife. Only by enjoying this quiet shore by foot will anyone see pairs of nesting Oyster Catchers in summer, our local Snowy Owl in winter along with now a stranded Gray seal pup.
Marine debris is also a constant along these shores and quite honestly the entire circumference of Fishers Island. There is a big need for public awareness on Fishers Island, a bigger need for stewardship all year round.
Finally, the naturalist in me is very proud to report always on our community efforts out in the field within this unique marine environment. Islanders on call and coming together to volunteer; in this case collaborating as a team of first responders with the Greater Atlantic Region Stranding network and Mystic Aquarium.
I would like to think of this chain of events as a unique expression of a Stewardship chain of command which unfolded so “naturally”.
From Karen’s first observation and knock on the door, to my bridging photo documentation with Aquarium staff, to science teacher Carol Giles’s charge of logistics along with Greg Thibodeau’s truck, Louis Horn’s donated kennel, several concerned Islanders back and forth on cell phones, students teaming up and lending support. Within 2 hours of the discovery, this Gray seal pup was headed across the Fishers Island Sound aboard the Fishers Island ferry Munnatawket in the back of Capt. Mike Conroy’s own truck, and ready to be picked up in New London and transported to care and rehabilitation in Mystic at the Aquarium.
As soon as I returned home Sunday evening I received an email from Janelle Schuh, Stranding Coordinator, “A huge thank you for each and every one helping to rescue this little seal”.
The following video was taken by Fishers Island student Caroline Toldo.
UPDATE from Justine: On January 25th I received this update from Mystic Aquarium and will continue to keep updating. It is my hope too, that this wonderful example of Stewardship might even come full circle with the release of the Gray seal pup back here on Fishers Island after he has fully recovered.
“The gray is doing well. It is a male around 16kg in size. He has some infected puncture wounds on one of his rear flippers that are requiring daily wound care and antibiotics. We are also swimming him in salt water each day (our pools are normally fresh water) in an effort to heal those wounds quicker. Finally, he started eating fish on his own which makes taking care of him far easier!”