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Rescued Guadalupe Fur Seal Flown to Rehabilitation Center in California Amid Travel Restrictions

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

Carrying seal pup to aircraft in cageIn 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.

Turtle Flier Dave Sutton, from Roseburg, Oregon, and Turtle Flier co-pilot, Gilbert FlorescuDave 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.

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About the author

Bonnie E. Barnes

Bonnie E. Barnes

Bonnie E. Barnes, Executive Director

Bonnie previously served as Development Manager for an International Marine Conservation organization headquartered in the Florida Keys. Bonnie’s heart is in conservation, whether scuba diving, traipsing through a forest, or swooshing down a mountain, she loves and cares about our environment.