A young harbor seal rescued from the Ocean City beach will be flown to the Maine coast and released tomorrow morning -- a triumph for the veterinary staff, mammalogists and volunteers who cared for the animal during a four-month hospital stay at Baltimore's National Aquarium.
The female seal, less than a year old, was captured near 122nd Street April 2 after a week of sightings along the Maryland-Delaware shore. It was heavily infested with parasites, including lungworms that made its breathing difficult, and had open viral lesions on its face and flippers.
The aquarium staff kept physical handling of the animal to a minimum -- preserving the decidedly unfriendly seal's wild instincts as they administered antibiotics and food. Its weight dropped in the early days from 45 pounds to 39 before the human efforts began to help.
It was tube-fed a milky gruel at first, then given a fishy gruel, and finally offered whole fish that it played with, bit into and learned to eat. Yesterday, the seal weighed 93 pounds -- nearly normal for a 1-year-old -- and blood tests indicated the parasites were gone.
"She'll take a deep breath of air, dive into her large pool and stay down and sleep there for three minutes," said aquarium mammalogist David Schofield. "In the beginning, she couldn't do that, her breathing was so labored."
The animal's flight to Biddeford, Maine, and release at a nearby site used for the same purpose by the New England Aquarium, was not the result the staff and volunteers expected -- only what they hoped would occur.
"We've trained our volunteers that most of the animals don't make it," Mr. Schofield said, explaining that marine mammals usually are stranded on beaches for a reason -- because they are ill. Many, he said, are beyond treatment.
"Cetaceans, the small whales, have a much lower success rate than seals do," he noted.
Since the city aquarium's marine mammal isolation pool and hospital
opened in 1991, the staff has received or brought in eight seals and two whales. Three of the seals survived. A loggerhead sea turtle apparently hurt by a boat propeller also was healed and freed.