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May 15, 2018 9:46 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Grey Seal Pup, 'Vanilla Bean,' Released At Ponquogue Beach In Hampton Bays

Vanilla Bean explores her surroundings. VALERIE GORDON
May 16, 2018 7:25 AM

After two months of rehabilitation, a female grey seal pup rescued east of Overlook Beach in Babylon was released on Thursday, May 10, at Ponquogue Beach in Hampton Bays.Despite the gloomy weather, dozens of spectators lined the beach, hoping to catch a glimpse of the seal—nicknamed Vanilla Bean—as she scuttled through sand and dried seaweed, making her way to the water. The 6-month-old seal was named by Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation technician Christina Hansen, and was the second seal to be released this month.

Vanilla Bean was brought to the foundation on March 6 after being discovered by patrons of the Ocean Parkway beach, suffering from malnutrition. Maxine Montello, the Riverhead Foundation’s rescue program supervisor, said that the seal pup was lethargic and wasn’t exhibiting normal behavior.

Grey seals are typically aggressive, and Vanilla Bean was allowing patrons to come within several feet of her, Ms. Montello said, adding, “It was clear that something internally was going on.”

Vanilla Bean weighed 35.5 pounds when she arrived at the Main Street foundation, 5 pounds lighter than she should have been, Ms. Montello said.

The foundation—which researches, rescues, rehabilitates and releases seals, sea turtles, whales, dolphins and porpoises—subsequently put Vanilla Bean on a course of antibiotics for an elevated white blood cell count, and fed her 10 to 15 percent of her body weight in fish each day. Upon her release, she weighed 45.5 pounds, Ms. Montello said.

“It really changes you, getting these animals back into the wild,” the Farmingville resident said. “It’s a great feeling.”

She added that the foundation rehabilitates roughly 20 seals per year at an average cost of $10,500 per seal, making donations crucial.

Those interested, can adopt seals or donate to their rehabilitation on the foundation’s website at www.riverheadfoundation.org or call 631-369-9840 for more information.

Seals are often found on the beach between late February and early May, Ms. Montello said, noting that the higher numbers in those months are in part due to injury, dehydration, infection, respiratory issues, and entanglement. “They’re very curious animals,” she said, which often means they can get entangled in things like fishing nets. “Entanglement in fishing lines prevents them from eating and swimming correctly.”

In fact, curiosity is one of the most common reasons as to why spectators gather at seal release ceremonies. Jeannie Malone of Jamesport brought her daughter Cassandra to see Vanilla Bean’s release, explaining that she wanted to see how the process worked.

“My daughter loves going to the aquarium, so I wanted to take her,” Ms. Malone said. “We like the ocean and we want to protect it.”

Ms. Montello added that seal releases bring the opportunity to create public awareness for marine wildlife, particularly among young children like Cassandra.

“It’s such a unique experience,” she said. “It’s just a big, happy ending for an animal that may not have made it without us.”

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