Contributions for article by All five organizations and aviation content by Sid Siddiqi, Advisory Board, TF2
Photo credits: Tiffany Boothe, Seaside Aquarium; Cathy King and Katie Cole, World Vets; Casey Mclean from SR3; Dave Sutton, Turtle Flier pilot and Gilbert Florescu, Turtle Flier co-pilot
Media coverage: Ken Wayne, KRON4 TV, San Francisco, [click here] to watch his video coverage
In the face of extraordinary challenges and continued restrictions due to COVID19, five organizations in the Pacific Northwest and California came together to rescue a young Guadalupe fur seal, a threatened species. The young seal caused a bit of a stir on the now-empty Oregon coast, where the species has historically been rarely sighted. Upon rescue, the rare seal departed on an unusual journey across Oregon and Washington until finally arriving in California, thanks to the heroic efforts of multiple organizations.
“We expected that we would be seeing our first harbor seal pup of the season but instead we were surprised with a young Guadalupe fur seal that was very tired and appeared to be dehydrated,” said Tiffany Boothe of Seaside Aquarium, Seaside, Oregon, who first responded to the young fur seal. “Usually with pinnipeds (seals and sea lions) on the Oregon coast, our policy is to not pick them up for rehabilitation. But special exceptions are made with Guadalupe fur seals because they are considered a threatened species.”
Beginning in 2015, dead, sick, and malnourished fur seals began to wash ashore in alarming numbers along the U.S. West Coast, causing the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to declare an Unusual Mortality Event, or UME, for the species. Guadalupe fur seals are traveling northward as they follow prey shifts due to warming waters along the West Coast, and more are stranding on northern beaches.
With authorization from NOAA Fisheries, Boothe was able to rescue the animal. “Once given the green light by NOAA Fisheries and because of the animal's weakened condition, we were easily able to capture it and get it into a large kennel,” Boothe said.
From there the fur seal was transferred to Casey Mclean of SR3 Sealife Response, a Seattle group that rescues and rehabilitates marine mammals in the Pacific Northwest. Mclean then transported the young pup to World Vets marine mammal urgent care facility in Gig Harbor, Washington, where Dr. Cathy King provided veterinary care to stabilize and treat the pup over the next three days until transport to California could be arranged as the Northwest area does not currently have a marine hospital facility.
“The pup was quite active and full of energy by the third day,” reported Dr. King, who noted that the pup improved daily and continued to gain strength.
Turtles Fly Too, an international non-profit general aviation rescue organization that partners with NOAA and the USFWS, agreed to facilitate transportation of the seal to The Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, California. Under short notice, and with extra restrictions regarding aviation travel during COVID-19, Turtles Fly Too’s founder Leslie J. Weinstein coordinated with all of the organizations involved to secure the pilot and aircraft, acquire transport permits through NOAA, and coordinate departure and arrival at airports. Having just completed an east coast transfer and release of 17 endangered turtles which required social distancing of all involved, Turtles Fly Too was well prepared for the extra care involved in this rescue effort.
Dave Sutton served as the Pacific northwest’s Turtles Fly Too pilot for this rescue mission. Dave’s co-pilot was Gilbert Florescu, a CFI. Sutton’s Turbo Saratoga, PA-32RT-301, flew early morning, take-off 630AM Pacific Time from Roseburg Regional (RBG), in south Oregon to arrive at Tacoma General Aviation Airport (TIW), landing TIW just before 8 AM. RBG to TIW was flown at 10,000 ft, took 1hr 20 min., and covered 284 miles at an average cruise speed of 190 knots, having filed for 200 knots.
The Seal pup was placed in a standard dog kennel (30 in. tall x 30 wide x 40 long, weight 20 lbs.) which was well ventilated and then the kennel was loaded and secured in the back-passenger club seating area of the Saratoga with its first row of seats removed to allow space for the kennel. The pup patient’s weight was 18 lbs. for a total weight of 38 lbs.
For this seal rescue mission, N965BJ, Sutton’s Turbo Saratoga (PA32RT-301) operated under CMF1816 Compassion Flight Air Care Alliance (CFACA) held by Turtles Fly Too. Flight Aware provided flight tracking access to TF2.
After loading his precious cargo, Dave Sutton’s Turbo Saratoga’s take-off was at 830AM and he flew 4 hours at 11,000 ft, averaging 160 knots for the flight that was about 50 miles inland of the Pacific coast and west of the coastal hills, the Cascades, in WA and OR. The weather was a set of rain showers in the Pacific offshore and moving NNE, so Dave was able to fly above the Eastern fringes of the rain showers. There was a steady, 10-12 knot headwind at altitude across WA and OR after which the headwind abated South of Mount Shasta.
[Click on images to view full size.]
Dave’s Turbo Saratoga covered 639 miles, having filed for 7,000 ft and 170 knots, but encountered turbulence and headwinds and so climbed up to 11,000 ft to minimize these and even at 11,000 ft the temperature was 5°C, so icing was avoided. The headwinds slowed enroute speed which slowed arrival at Petaluma O69. TF2 extends a special thank you to Tacoma Narrows Airport (TIW) and Mike Pickett owner Pavco Flight Center who provided ground support for our pilots and to Petaluma Municipal Airport O69, manager Joshua McKeighan.
Overall the Pacific rain area stayed mostly offshore during the RBG to TIW early morning flight and created some IMC clouds upon departure. The cruise to O69 was mostly in Rain clouds in WA but abated in central OR and N CA. The headwind was a steady 15 knots in cruise so kept cruise speed to CA at 155 knots. The Rescue Turbo Saratoga arrived at O69, CA, AT 1230PM, were they were met by Dr. Cara Field, medical director at The Marine Mammal Center.
Upon the pup’s arrival at The Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, CA, Dr. Field noted that the seal was quiet and receiving fluids. “The conservation of Guadalupe fur seals is a critically important part of our mission because it provides key insights into the overall health of their threatened population and the ocean,” says Dr. Field. “We are heartened to see so many partners come together to provide this young pup a second chance at life.”
The Marine Mammal Center is the world’s largest marine mammal hospital and has been on the front lines of rescuing and rehabilitating Guadalupe fur seals in record numbers for the last five years as well as conducting ongoing research to better understand the elusive species. The Center partners with NOAA and international conservation groups in this investigation to gain valuable insights into the species’ life history through post-release satellite telemetry data, tissue and blood sampling, and joint research excursions to their home on Guadalupe Island.
Guadalupe fur seals are listed as Threatened under the Endangered Species Act, with approximately 34,000 individuals remaining after being hunted to near extinction in the 1800s. Little is known about this elusive species, which spends most of its time offshore and rarely comes ashore along the coast of the United States.
Unfortunately, we had a sad ending to this story. Every individual animal is crucial when working with endangered species. It takes a village to ensure each rescued animal has every opportunity for survival and to contribute to the recovery of its species. Soleado “Sunny” in Spanish, the following morning succumbed in his cage. Five separate organizations were involved in this rescue with oversight by NOAA Fisheries West Coast office, and it was a sad ending, yet our work continues for rescue and rehabilitation of these endangered mammals.
- The Northern Oregon/Southern Washington Marine Mammal Stranding Program (Portland State University in Portland, OR, and Seaside Aquarium in Seaside, OR)
- SeaLife R3, Seattle, WA
- Turtles Fly Too, Boise, ID and Miami, FL
- World Vets in Gig Harbor, WA
- The Marine Mammal Center, Sausalito, CA
- NOAA Fisheries West Coast
Wildlife rehabilitation experts remind the public to practice responsible wildlife viewing. Maintain a safe distance of at least 100 feet from wild animals on beaches and keep pets away. Sea lions and seals often rest onshore. If concerned, call the West Coast Marine Mammal Stranding Network at 866-767-6114; the Northeast Marine Mammal and Sea Turtle Stranding and Entanglement Hotline at 866-755-6622; or the Southeast Marine Mammal Stranding Hotline at 877-942-5343.
Return to the newsletter [click here]