The seal lifts his head, suddenly smelling seawater. He hears the waves. He remembers this place.
It’s a sunny June day in Ocean City, where the harbor seal was found by the National Aquarium’s Animal Rescue team in March. At the time, he was breathing heavily, sick with pneumonia and cuts on his body. He had seal pox on his left flipper, according to the aquarium.
Staff nicknamed him Marmalade and took him to Baltimore for rehabilitation. At the National Aquarium’s Animal Care Center, he received IV fluids, antibiotics and steroids. The aquarium has been feeding him through enrichment devices to make sure he doesn’t lose the ability to forage for himself in the wild.
And then, he was ready to go back home.
On Thursday morning, keepers carried his crate and gingerly lowered it onto the sand. Marmalade heaved himself forward, slowly at first, his grey belly propelling him toward the sea. He twisted his head to look back, like a dog seeking its owner’s permission, before diving into the great big sea.