AMSTERDAM, Netherlands - Storms that have lashed the Dutch coast this year have created a wave of orphaned baby seals - some so young their umbilical cords are still attached - wrenched from their mothers and washed up on beaches and dikes.
An existing seal nursery near the northern city of Groningen has been so inundated with pups and older seals in recent weeks it has erected a temporary tent to house them in tanks and baths while they are nurtured back to health. They will eventually be returned to the wild.
Storms and high tides create problems for seals because the sand banks where they bask remain underwater, said Lenie 't Hart, who founded the nursery formally known as the Seal Rehabilitation and Research Center.
American volunteer Torrey Utne, of Boston, Massachusetts, said Thursday that in the last 10 days, more than 100 seals have been brought to the centre for treatment and it now houses some 350 of the marine mammals.
Many of them are young pups known as “screamers” for their high-pitched whining.
“They are little babies missing their moms pretty much, so it sounds like babies crying,” said 23-year-old Utne, who has been working at the nursery since late last year.
In November, there were around 140 seals at the nursery, Utne said. “But since then, the numbers have exploded.”
Many of the animals are young, grey seals separated from their mothers. But others are older seals weakened by a virus or lung worms - a parasite that destroys the animals' lungs if left untreated - who were buffeted by storm-tossed seas.
It can take up to three months to nurse the animals back to health before they are released.
At the nursery, they are fed whole herring or a porridge of mashed herring, oral re-hydration salts and water. If necessary, they get antibiotics and vitamins to help them regain their strength.
“All the animals here, and there are more than 350, go back to sea. None remain in captivity,” 't Hart said.
Not all the seals appear to appreciate the good care. Utne had to hold one down Thursday as he pushed a herring into its mouth, and last month a seal managed to lock its rescuer out of his car on a beach on the island of Terschelling.
But others are far more welcoming.
“Some of the seals are really friendly,” Utne said. “They will come right up to you and sniff you because they know you are the one bringing fish.”