Authorities had to euthanize a harbor seal pup after a well-intentioned woman in Washington carried it home, assuming it had been abandoned.
"We're very passionate about marine mammals, so of course we all want to see them survive in the wild," said Kristin Wilkinson, a regional stranding coordinator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries’ West Coast Marine Mammal Stranding Network, ABC News reports. "We only resort to euthanization if the situation becomes so dire that it would be the most humane thing to do."
The woman found the struggling seal on a beach and, presumably without realizing it was illegal, carried it home in a grocery bag, the Daily Mail reports.
“She then took it home and realized she really didn't know what to do for it or how to take care of it,” NOAA public affairs officer Michael Milstein said. “She later called the local aquarium, Westport Aquarium, which is part of our network of volunteers.”
By the time aquarium's director, Marc Myrsell, came out to inspect the animal, it may have been too late -- the seal lay on the floor, looking lethargic.
“Usually these animals will snap and struggle to get away if you try to approach them, but this pup was so lethargic,” Myrsell said. “Putting him in the carrier to take him to a center was like picking up a sleeping human baby.”
They said they had no choice but to euthanize the animal. Now they are using this example to warn and educate others.
“The best thing people can do to help marine mammals on the beach is to leave them alone, staying 100 yards away, if possible,” NOAA said. “'Disturbing, feeding or attempting to move young seals or other marine mammals is illegal because it can stress the animals, interfere with their natural behavior and cause adult seals to abandon their pups.”
Dr. Jeff Boehm, executive director of The Marine Mammal Center in Northern California, said three of the 18 marine animals brought to him by people this year in Northern California have died.
NOAA also says two other seals have died this season in Washington and Oregon after well-meaning people attempted to help the animals out.