BRIGANTINE, N.J. — According to the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey, the number of seals appearing on the New Jersey coast each winter has been increasing. No one knows this better than the people at the Marine Mammal Stranding Center in Brigantine.
In the past five years, the center, a non-profit organization, has averaged 26 seals a year in rehab, but last year far surpassed that number.
“Last year alone we had 91 seals come in,” Sheila Dean, co-director of the center said. “Most are yearlings or younger.”
Many of the young seals are brought in due to illness from malnutrition because they just don’t know how to hunt for food.
“The mothers only care for them for about a year and then she leaves, and the young seals have to figure out what to do on their own,” Dean said.
“The fishermen don’t like them,” Dean said. “Many come with ropes tied on them. Some have actually been shot.”
Sometimes when people see an injured or ill seal, they try to help.
“People think they are doing good by trying to give a stranded seal food or a blanket,” Dean said. “But they are just frightening them and making them sicker. If you see a seal in distress, just call us.”
Most of the seals stay at the center for six to eight weeks before they are well enough to be released back into the wild. “Some stay longer; it depends on the illness or injury. Shark bites take a long time to heal. We then let them go at Sandy Hook, New Jersey shore’s northern most point,” Dean explained.
Taking care of a sick or injured seal can be costly.
“We spend about $2,000 in expenses for each seal,” Dean said. “That includes food, medicine, and utilities.”
To that end, the center — which has no permanent funding, depending solely on donations and memberships — is running their annual Giving Tuesday fundraising campaign.
According to the center, $5 will pay for five pounds of fish for a seal which eat between eight and ten pounds per day. Medication can often run upwards of $25 a day. A donation of $76 will pay for a diagnostic test to determine which medication they will need to heal.
Last year the campaign raised $8,052 that was used toward their new Seal Building. This year’s goal is $10,000 to be used to care for the stranded seals.
The need for funding is more critical now because the seal season runs from November through April.
“Seals will be coming soon,” Dean said.
In addition to the #GivingTuesday campaign, the center is holding a fundraiser Ales for Whales at the Garden State Beer Company in Galloway on January 23 from 6:00 P.M. to 9:00 P.M.
To become a member or receive further information on donating, adopting a seal, or the Ales for Whales fundraiser, visit their website at www.mmsc.org.