An Awestruck Guilt-Ridden Love Letter to Seals (Newsletter No. 8)

On a past Saturday I visited Ecomare in Texel, a sanctuary and educational center for lost and sick seals.  It was my first time seeing seals so closely, so detailedly, and I was mind-blown that these animals exist. 

It struck me how I never realized that seals truly are an animal caught between two worlds.  Out of all the marine mammals, this one the most. On land they look completely helpless, their flippers like goldfish fins, vestigial and almost ragged,  tiny and disproportional to their hefty core, barely dextrous enough to paw at the door or walk along the floor.  They have the body type of a corgi.  But unlike the corgi who seems to lead such an unfortunate human-manufactured destiny of back and knees pain, evolution decided this body for seals.   They don’t walk, they do that scrunching shimmy that humans do before they learn to crawl.  In water they effortlessly torpedo or bob along, and yet they can’t stay in there forever for they still breathe air.  In fact, newborn seals can’t swim at all— without the proper lessons (no, it’s not innate)— they will drown.  Just like humans. Never has an animal seemed more mystical, a human soul trapped in an at once limited, yet agile body. You understand how, just like elegant and untouchable swans, or cranes East Asian fairy tales, seals became the stuff of folklore.  They seem to have so much anthropomorphic personality and wisdom, but remain impenetrably mysterious.  

Their body is amorphous. With every head roll or curious look, their shape transforms from sea slug, weasel, sleek and long, torpedo-like, to corgi sausage barrel, their whole body a belly.   Serpent-like, penguin-like, fat bullet. 

With those giant eyes and blob belly you just want to hug them. But they’re unhuggable, with stiff fur.  You can’t cuddle them in bed like a puppy because they need water.  You can’t cuddle them in water because you need dryness. Also unlike puppies, you can’t just see them whenever you want. At least I can’t! They’re not just walking down the street everywhere. 

And do they really want to be cuddled? Would our skin mess with their PH balance.  And emotionally, like children, you have to fight the urge to aggressively nurture them or to be a savior and adopt them (because that’s more about you, not them).  Maybe you need to guide them, but understand that they’d first prefer to be with their own kind (not in a speciest kind of way but more of, don’t deny them that opportunity of kinship), and/or age group. Maybe nurse them back to health, but you have to be okay with it being an unreciprocated favor, there is no payoff except the present.  Don’t expect loyalty.  That is the ultimate parenting.  

Are we helping? At least a little.  You worry if they have enough space, enough water.  If the fish or milk formula is good quality and healthy.  They’re at Ecomare  because they were sick or lost.  Hopefully they are thankful for being alive? Is their life longer? Do they want it to be longer?  Is their quality of life better? Is it like being in a day spa everyday? Or is it tortuous being in a spa everyday.  A never-changing paradise becomes Hell eventually.

Misc. Notes:

  • Dogs, serpents, ratlike, penguin like (in many languages they’re called sea dogs)

  • My only thought paid to seals prior was how they did tricks with balls,  were eaten by polar bears, maybe I saw a few gliding through the water when I was canoeing on Vancouver Island (or were they otters?)

  • Selkie

From the Ecomare website: 

Seal sanctuary

Every year, Ecomare cares for around 100 young, sick, weakened or wounded seals. When they are healthy, they go back to the sea. At Ecomare, you can follow the entire seal care process close up. The smallest and weakest seals remain in the special seal quarantines. These areas are specially designed for the recovery of the seals. There is under floor heating, extra options for hygiene and when their condition allows it, the animals can swim in their own pool. This quarantine area isn’t too large so the animals can save all their energy for getting better. From behind glass, you can watch how they are cared for. When they recover, the seals move to the roomier outdoor bassins.  Here you can see them swimming, playing and sun-bathing. At this stage, the seals only need to gain weight so that they can take care of themselves when they return to the wild.

Permanent care

At Ecomare, there are also seals that can’t return to the wild. Most of them are very old, are blind or are missing teeth. There are also a few younger animals, which aren’t capable of surviving in nature due to various circumstances. At Ecomare, they are cared for their entire life.”

Kristy Lin