Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Itti-vik, the baby seal

On July 4, 1986, 23 years ago today, a resident of Port Townsend walked into the Marine Center and handed us a small baby seal. It had been left on the beach near her house, perhaps deserted because it was born prematurely (its white coat indicated that possibility). Possession of any marine mammal is strictly regulated and so we quickly tried to contact the appropriate authorities before we decided what to do with it. Alas, it was the 4th of July and they weren’t available. We also felt the need to feed and hydrate the tiny seal – but how could we simulate seal mother’s milk … and how to get the pup to drink it?

What followed was 10-14 days of intense round-the-clock caring, feeding and observing the baby seal, soon named Itti-vik, meaning “spirit of the sea” in some native Alaskan language. A crew of about 12 volunteers provided 24-hour care, including spending nights in sleeping bags on the Marine Center floor.
During that entire time, visitors and the public never learned about Itti-vik. He was kept in a back office to minimize contact and possible infection. Only afterwards was an article written about him.

The pup quickly moved from drinking water to eating herring. As it thrived, grew and gradually shed its white coat, it started looking like the more familiar harbor seals we see around here. Meanwhile we were learning about the next steps in its care – catching food, getting exercise in a large tank, etc. – and soon were able to transfer him to a Kingston vet who specialized in reintroducing seals to the wild.

The emotional day finally arrived when four of us drove Itti-vik to his next temporary  home in Kingston. The tears flowed, as Itti-vik circled the large tank trying to stay close to us, completely ignoring the other seals in the tank. We left and later learned that he continued to prosper and was finally tagged and released on a beach close to where he had first been found.The next time someone offered us a baby seal, we said, “No, thanks.”

                                By Libby Palmer

This is one of 30 reasons to give $30 to celebrate 30 years. Or increase your impact and give more. All funds support the Future Fund to keep the PTMSC going strong. Donate online or call (360) 385-5582, ext. 104, or send a check to 532 Battery Way, Port Townsend, WA 98368.

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