Mustang Sally
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Saving a Seal from Probable Death and Starvation

It was a wonderful sailing day.  Big blue skies,  warm air and a breeze that started at 5 knots and built to 15 by the time we reached Santa Catalina.  Same weather pattern for the last month.  Welcome to California sailing.

After a day on a mooring next to the very busy Two Harbors - Isthmus Cove dock,  we needed to escape.  The continual noise and wake of the dinghies and harbour boats was annoying. Two Harbor's Isthmus Cove is full of moorings - 250 according to the visitors guide.  These are fore and aft moorings and it feels a little like you are in a drive in theater.  Boats are moored much closer than we are used to.  Click on the image at the left and right to see what I mean.

This method seems the only way to accommodate the hundreds of boating visitors who come from the near by southern California mega cities.  LA is about 25 miles away.

Isthmus Cove harbor is home to another half dozen smaller coves,  most mined with mooring buoys,  but a few open spaces where a skillful mariner can can drop a hook and be comfortable.  The only caveat is that one just needs to be ready to help the many boaters who don't have a clue how to anchor but will give it a try,  right on top of you.

So we find a nice cove with only one other boat in it - Archangel with Captain Mike Hill and friend Ken aboard.  Mike is surprised when I ask permission to anchor next to him and inquire about the amount of anchor line he used and his anchor location.  Mike explained later that the standard is to just to do it and let the chips fall where they may.

Mike is a skilled mariner and points us to the best spot in the cove. Then he jumps in his dingy ready to be a tug boat to assist us.  You have to like a guy who has a queen sized bed on his foredeck!  We get settled in bow and stern anchored in what really is a great spot.

A little while later we notice a seal on the back of Mike's boat.  Mike calls over and says "hey Rae,  this seal has a fishing line and hook stuck in his month.  How about helping me get it out?" 

"Sounds risky" I say - "seals have a good bite and can take off a finger."  But after a few minutes I decide to see what we can do.  Putting some heavy gloves on,  I jump in the dingy and zoom over.  You can see the fishing line around her mouth and it seem obvious that a hook must be holding it. 

The seal seems to be moaning and is lethargic but what the hell do I know about seal behavior?  Mike attempts a couple of brute force grabs to hold the seal so I can cut the line.  The seal does not try to escape until Mike physically grabs her,  then she wiggles away.  She had ample opportunity to bite,  but did not open her mouth.  We don't think she could. 

When she slips away she swims over to Mustang Sally and seems to ask Sharon for help.  If you zoom the picture on the right you may be able to see the fishing line under her chin.

Mike calls for assistance to the harbor master,  but nobody has any idea what to do.  Mike suggest we dingy over to the USC (University of Southern California) research outstation which is in the next cove and look for someone with sea mammal expertise.  Off we go, but alas there is no one with any seal or mammal expertise.

Back to Mike's boat.  The seal has returned to the swim platform.  We determine to give it one last try.  We plan an attempt where Mike will grab her by the flippers and neck and pin her to the transom.  We maneuver the dingy so she can not easily slip away and I prepare to cut the fishing line. 

She lets us stoke her and that seems to calm her anxiousness.  She likes firm full handed strokes,  fingers seem to bother her.  I stroke her and move my hands slowly toward her head and she seems OK.  She has her chin on the deck and I see an opportunity.  I put the knife in the the hand I have been petting her with and slowly slide my hand toward her head.

With a quick movement I slide the knife under the fishing line and cut it on the deck.  The seal is startled by the sudden movement and "snip" sound but she does not flee.

Getting the fish hook out of her mouth would be the next step,  but we decide to let mother nature take care of that.  At least now she can open her mouth.

Maybe we should become marine biologist when we grow up ;-).