Back in June, a tiny harbor seal, barely a week old, was found near a seafood processing plant in Unalaska. The pup was scrawny, and she had clearly been attacked by another animal.
“With the condition that she was in, being skinny, having all those puncture wounds, she would not have lasted more than a couple more days,” says Tim Lebling, the stranding coordinator with the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward.
The seal was immediately shipped out to Lebling and his staff so they could treat her. Their veterinarians had to wire the seal’s jaw shut, and staffers fed her from a tube for weeks. They also gave her a name: Kerrigan, as in Nancy. She got that moniker because it was an Olympic year, and she was pretty beat up when she came in.
But like her namesake, Kerrigan recovered fast, and after a couple months she was able to spend time with other seals and compete against them for fish.
“She was a fighter the whole time,” says Lebling.
By September, it was clear she was able to fend for herself in the wild. So, Lebling and his crew made arrangements to have her released near the place where she was found. On Wednesday, Kerrigan was sent back to Unalaska on a PenAir plane. She was transported in a doggy crate with a label that told cargo handlers they were dealing with a wild animal and warned them not to stick their fingers in.
Shortly after touching ground, Kerrigan was taken to the bay where she was initially found. A crowd of about 40 kids was there, and they gushed over her speckled coat and big eyes.
But an orange satellite tracker attached to her back left them with some questions. It looked funny. Lebling told the audience that the device would allow people to follow Kerrigan’s movements.
“What that will do is that will actually transmit information exactly where she is. It’s one of the things your parents would like to do to you when you go to college so that they know exactly where you are at all times,” Lebling joked.
After answering a few more questions, it was time to let Kerrigan go. The crate was set up on the beach, and a local student was selected to open the door.
And after a few minutes, she was gone, and the crowd was left saying its goodbyes.