By Amy McDermott
At 5 a.m. one morning last spring, a baby seal wandered into the sleepy town of Bar Harbor, Maine. The little pup waddled off the beach and onto the highway. Locals called the police. The police called Rosemary Seton.
"They said, we have a seal pup in the middle of the road," Seton remembered, laughing. "The police were with it, they said they were keeping it safe, but they were in the middle of the road."
Seton is on speed dial when seals turn up sick or lost in Maine. She's a trained first responder for marine mammals in trouble, with the Allied Whale Marine Mammal Research Lab, at the College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor. When the police called, Seton headed to work. Never mind that it was the crack of dawn, and her birthday, Seton helped wrangle the middle-of-the-road pup, and drove it three hours south, to Marine Mammals of Maine in Bath, the state's only medical facility for such strandings.
Seton knew how to handle that situation. Saving wildlife is her job. But she can't be everywhere at once. She relies on the public to report sick-looking animals. Everyone has a role to play for stranded ocean wildlife. Even beachcombers can help. Just keep a distance, and know who to call.
Far from the middle of a Maine road, the pup Rosealind Franklin makes her way back to sea from a Massachusetts beach.National Marine Life Center
Make a Move
Imagine finding a distressed animal on the beach. You've probably seen a sick seabird at some point, huddled on the wet sand, unmoving but alive. What should you do?
Don't just gawk, said Michelle Bellizzi, the response services manager for International Bird Rescue in Fairfield, California. "Birds that live out in the ocean, if they end up on the beach, they're probably in trouble," she said. Grab a phone, and call a wildlife rehabilitation center.
Use the National Wildlife Rehabilitator's Association to find facilities and telephone numbers in the U.S. When you call, the center may ask you to go get the bird. "Most wildlife rehabs run on volunteer power," Bellizzi explained. "We don't have the funding to go out and pick up animals. We rely on people to bring the animals to us." If that's the case, Bellizzi suggested tossing a towel or shirt over the bird before picking it up, to avoid its sharp bill and claws.
A patient is released in Northern California, after it was rescued, covered in oil.International Bird Rescue
Never approach a whale, dolphin, seal or sea lion. Marine mammals are legally protected. It's against the law to mess with them, even if you're trying to help. Seals and sea lions come ashore for a variety of reasons, and sometimes they're not sick at all. Seals need help, Seton said, when they're obviously injured or in distress. The best thing to do if you see a marine mammal that doesn't look quite right, is to call a stranding center, she added. Google the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's national stranding network for a list of centers and telephone numbers across the U.S. In 2016, the network responded to more than 2,500 strandings across the country, according to their national database.
Seton's lab is part of that network. Allied Whale gets about 130 calls a year, she said, as one of two Maine organizations that responds to beached marine mammals. "We look after midcoast up to Canada, with our dented coastline and islands," Seton said. Coastal states each have their own sets of first responders. If there's no stranding center close by, animal control, police, fire departments, the coast guard, lifeguards or the harbormaster are good starting points too. Having contact numbers on hand is one of the best ways you can prepare to help a beached animal in trouble, said Jennifer Dittmar, who oversees animal rescue at the National Aquarium in Baltimore.
Rufus, a premature harbor seal pup, covered in his lanugo, a birth coat normally shed in the womb. He was rescued in Maine in 2005.Allied Whale Marine Mammal Research Lab, College of the Atlantic
Seal the Deal
When a call comes in, Seton hops in the truck. If a seal is far up the coast, she sometimes asks the caller to keep an eye on it until help arrives. Good Samaritans occasionally overstep. "One woman, she brought a seal in and put it on her bathroom floor," Seton remembered, chuckling. "I just said, you really need to disinfect your floor."
Once Seton gets to a pup, if it needs help, she "makes a seal burrito" by carefully wrapping a towel around the animal, and folding in its flippers. She drives rescues down to Marine Mammals of Maine, where they get a checkup. From there, seals go to the National Marine Life Center in Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts, or to the Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut for rehabilitation.
As for the pup in the middle of the road, she returned to the ocean last October, after a stay at the National Marine Life Center. In Massachusetts, the pup got a clean bill of health and a new name, "Rosealind Franklin," after the often-overlooked chemist whose research led to the discovery of DNA's molecular structure.
Rosemary Seton monitoring the middle-of-the-road pup on the beach.Allied Whale Marine Mammal Research Lab, College of the Atlantic
Seal pups and other stranded wildlife have a lifeline in wildlife rescuers and rehabilitators. You can help them too, Seton said, by knowing who to call. "If you see a seal," she explained, "instead of feeling helpless, at least you've got some tools in your toolkit."
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It is undisputed that vitamin D plays a role everywhere in the body and performs important functions. A severe vitamin D deficiency, which can occur at a level of 12 nanograms per milliliter of blood or less, leads to severe and painful bone deformations known as rickets in infants and young children and osteomalacia in adults. Unfortunately, this is where the scientific consensus ends.
Where Does the Deficiency Begin?<p>Nobody knows exactly how much vitamin D a person actually needs. The question of when a deficiency starts is correspondingly controversial. However, vitamin D is becoming increasingly popular.Not only is the pseudo-scientific literature on the "sun vitamin" experiencing an upswing, but the number of published studies has also increased enormously in recent years. For example, in 2019 <a href="https://academic.oup.com/edrv/article/40/4/1109/5126915" target="_blank">a study found that</a> Vitamin D is responsible for keeping the skeleton functional and is associated with cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes and various types of cancer. <br></p>
An All-Rounder<p>Vitamin D levels in the body rise and fall according to sun exposure. If sufficient UV rays reach the skin, the body is able to produce the vitamin itself. However, the human body only derives an estimated 10 to 20 percent of its daily requirement from food.</p><p>The vitamin D that we synthesize from sunlight or food is not biologically active at first. Before the kidneys can produce the biologically active form of the vitamin, known as calcitriol, and release it into the blood, some metabolic processes must take place beforehand.</p><p>In addition, many organs have receptors to which the precursor of calcitriol binds. Further, this substance is also present in blood.</p><p>From this precursor, the organs then produce calcitriol themselves, which the body then uses for countless other processes in the body. This form of vitamin D thus regulates insulin secretion, inhibits tumor growth, and promotes the formation of red blood cells as well as the survival and activity of macrophages, which are important for the <a href="https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/5/7/2502/htm" target="_blank">immune system.</a></p>
Low Vitamin D, Severe COVID-19 Disease?<p>A research study carried out <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2352364620300067?via%3Dihub" target="_blank">at the University of Hohenheim</a> has now established a link between vitamin D deficiency, certain previous diseases, and severe cases of COVID-19.</p><p>According to the study, "there is a lot of evidence that several non-communicable diseases (high blood pressure, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, metabolic syndrome) are associated with low vitamin D plasma levels. These comorbidities, together with the often accompanying vitamin D deficiency, increase the risk of severe COVID-19 events."</p><p>"This statement is completely correct," said Martin Fassnacht, head of endocrinology at the University Hospital of Würzburg. However, he qualifies that it is a pure association, "i.e. a mere observation that these events occur together.</p><p>Dr. Fassnacht is very critical of the hype surrounding vitamin D, but not because he denies the vitamin serves important functions. However, studies on humans have not been able to show that vitamin D has the healing powers many often propagate.</p><p>Fassnacht says, "If you take a closer look, the hopes that the administration of vitamin D has a healing effect have not been confirmed so far."</p>
Association Versus Intervention Studies<p>Many studies on the vitamin are association or observational studies. "By definition, these studies cannot prove the causal relationship, but only point to mere correlations," said Fassnacht. The physician tries to illustrate this with an example:</p><p>"Imagine two groups of 80-year-olds. One group is spry, active and does sports. If you compare them with another group living in nursing homes, the difference in vitamin D levels will be dramatic. Life expectancy would also be extremely different."</p><p>But to try to explain the difference in fitness by vitamin D status alone is far too simplistic. "Vitamin D levels are a good measure of how sick someone is. But not more," says Fassnacht. </p><p>According to Fassnacht, none of the intervention studies carried out to date -- that specifically examined the effect of vitamin D on various diseases -- has been able to confirm the previous association and laboratory studies or the presumed positive effect of vitamin D.</p>
Further Research Is Needed<p>"If a coronavirus infection is suspected, it is therefore absolutely necessary to check the vitamin D status and quickly correct any possible deficit," said the recommendation of the paper published by the University of Hohenheim.</p><p>"Studies are underway to see whether vitamin D helps in COVID-19 infection, but I personally do not believe that this is really the case," says endocrinologist Fassnacht. Nevertheless, he says it is of course useful to carry out these studies.<br></p><p>"I don't want to rule out that there are actually subgroups of people who benefit from an additional vitamin D dose," he says. After all, this has been proven to be the case with a severe deficit.</p><p>In view of the study situation, Fassnacht does not think much of preventive, nationwide vitamin D substitutes. "My belief that the vitamin helps somewhere is very low. But, of course, I can be wrong."</p>
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