2001-04-07 / Front Page

Rockaway Firefighter Rescues Wounded Seal

By Aaron Zeidman

Firefighter Bob Horvath with the seal he rescued Sunday night.Firefighter Bob Horvath with the seal he rescued Sunday night.

What would you do after working a nine-hour shift at the fire department? Probably go straight home to eat, sleep, or just to lounge around. One local firefighter has an interest in saving injured animals and birds that keeps him busy when he’s off the clock.

Bob Horvath, a firefighter working at Engine Co. 264, or "The Big House" in Far Rockaway, took an unusual detour on the way home Sunday night.

According to Police Officer Tim Daly of the 100thPrecinct, around 4:00 p.m. on April 1, 2001, he and two other police officers, Officer Lavin and Sgt. Turetzky, were at 73rd St. and the boardwalk when somebody approached and told them there was a seal on the beach.

"We knew there was something wrong right away," said Daly. "Every now and then a seal comes up on the beach but they don’t let you get anywhere near them. This one didn’t try to get away."

The seal had blood coming from its nose and seemed to be in distress. The police officers were concerned about the animal, and called some local organizations for help, including the Coney Island Aquarium. Apparently, the aquarium has a nice display, but it is not set up for animal rescue or rehabilitation.

The Riverhead Foundation in Suffolk County was equipped for rescue and rehabilitation, but they didn’t have anyone there who would be able to respond immediately. "It was cold and the wind was blowing," said Daly. "We had to get that seal off the beach or it wasn’t going to make it."

Daly called his long time friend Bob Horvath, who happened to be on duty in Rockaway. Horvath came over at 5:00, as soon as his shift ended. With the help of the officers, Horvath was able to get the seal stabilized by wrapping it in a blanket. "The seal was trying to bite us and it put up a fight the whole time," said Horvath. But eventually, the four men got the seal into Horvath’s car, and he took the seal home until someone from the Riverhead Foundation could come to pick it up.

Horvath is a licensed wildlife rehabilitator and has a state and federal license to rescue injured and orphaned animals. He rescues approximately 100-200 animals per year. This is the first seal he has rescued, however.

"The funny thing about this job is that it actually costs me money," said Horvath. He works with a network of veterinarians who volunteer their services and time to the benefit of the injured animals. "These are not pets," Horvath said. "These are wild animals, and we want to see them get back to their natural habitation."

The type of seal Horvath rescued was a juvenile female Harp seal, a federally protected animal. "Do not try to help injured animals if you find them—it could be dangerous to you or the animal. Contact a licensed professional." Horvath said. The Riverhead Foundation Hotline is (631) 369-9840.

At press time the Wave was notified that the seal is still in recovery. The Riverhead Foundation is administering antibiotics and assistant feeds. It is probable that the seal will survive, and will be released back into its natural habitat.

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