Now a staff and guest favorite, Asiqtuq “Tuq” the harbor seal was brought to the Alaska SeaLife Center through the Wildlife Response Program. The call came on May 27, 2021, through the ASLC’s 24-hour Stranded Marine Animal Hotline (1-888-774-SEAL ) concerning an abandoned seal pup near Tonsina Point, about three miles south of the Alaska SeaLife Center. While harbor seal pup strandings are common in the early summer months, Tuq’s was a particularly dire case. Photos sent to the team showed a significant amount of blood, which ASLC Director of Animal Health Dr. Carrie Goertz suspected was placental tissue rather than traumatic wounds from a predatory attack.
After confirming with the caller that the pup was still alive, the wildlife response and veterinary teams began packing medical supplies, coordinating personnel, and arranging transport. If the placenta was still attached, Tuq would need help fast, and with no boats available, the quickest way to reach him was on foot. The team of seven set out on a rainy, hour-long hike, trading off heavy equipment as they went, including an extra-large dog crate.
Once they arrived at the beach, Tuq’s location was not immediately apparent, but within ten minutes, the team located him in a bloody patch of grass ten to 15 yards from the water’s edge. Dr. Carrie immediately went to work, surgically removing the placenta and administering fluids to help stabilize him. His condition was worrisome, and the team noted that he was highly lethargic and suffering from small bouts of seizures. While the exact circumstances leading to his state were unclear, Dr. Carrie guessed that his mother had likely undergone a difficult birth, possibly due to the newborn’s larger size, prompting his abandonment. The team estimated that he was only around six hours old.
Fortunately, Miller’s Landing, a local water taxi company, provided Tuq and all seven members of the team a free ride back to the Center, where he was given a complete veterinary exam and kept under close observation by the wildlife response team. His recovery started slowly, and staff prepared for the worst as he continued to suffer from tremors, labored breathing, and eye ulcers. During his first time in a small tub of water, Tuq could not hold his breath underwater — an ability most seal pups display automatically. It was apparent that he still had a lot to learn.
Over the weeks, Tuq’s condition improved, and he began learning to swim and eat properly. However, veterinary rechecks and evaluations found evidence of an ongoing neurological condition, making it clear that Tuq was unlikely to survive in the wild. In cases where wildlife response patients do not meet the criteria for release, a report is submitted to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) requesting an official “non-releasable” designation. NOAA agreed that release was not an option for Tuq, and he was approved to stay at the ASLC with the other seals.
Human contact is kept to a minimum with seal rehabilitation patients, but with Tuq now approved as a permanent resident, the wildlife response team became more involved in his recovery. Staff worked closely with Tuq to teach him essential skills such as swimming at different depths and grabbing fish above and below water. With enough dedicated training, he was able to swim, haul out, and feed with proficiency. Plans were made to transfer him to the ASLC’s public seal habitat.
Since his transfer in November of 2021, Tuq has been doing well, and can commonly be found interacting with staff and guests in underwater viewing. He consistently finds new ways to keep himself busy: chasing cleaning rags on the other side of the acrylic, following guests with brightly colored clothing, and devouring ice enrichment from his animal care team.
Tuq still displays tremors and “head-wobbles,” which are closely monitored by his care team. Although Tuq frequently interacts in the underwater viewing area, the ASLC veterinary team and mammals team ask that guests try not to overstimulate him, as it seems to trigger more tremors. His care team also notes that he is somewhat slower to haul out than the average harbor seal, seeming to prefer his time in the water.
Despite these challenges and an undeniably tough start to life, Tuq is not slowed down by any of his medical conditions and has become one of the Center’s most curious, enthusiastic, and beloved seal residents. The entire ASLC staff agrees – we are so lucky to have him here.
Activities authorized by NOAA SA-AKR-2022-05