OCEAN CITY – On a
gloomy, damp mid-May morning yesterday, a harbor seal found injured on the
beach in Ocean City in January somewhat reluctantly returned to the sea near
the Inlet after a cushy four-month stint at the National Aquarium in Baltimore.
Hastings, a juvenile
male harbor seal half-heartedly scooted out of a wooden crate on the beach at
the Ocean City Inlet yesterday morning, made his way through 100 or more fans
and swam into the ocean, lingering for a few minutes before heading north.
Hastings was found stranded on the beach in Ocean City on Jan. 15 with a
serious wound behind his left front flipper.
The Marine Animal Rescue
Program (MARP), a volunteer organization with the National Aquarium, responded
and Hastings was taken from the beach and transported to the aquarium in
Baltimore for rehabilitation. In addition to the gash behind his left front
flipper, Hastings was found to have an upper respiratory infection and a mild case
of pneumonia at the time he was admitted for rehabilitation.
Upon admission, Hastings
was underweight, severely dehydrated and mildly emaciated. Once he arrived at
the aquarium, Hastings began an extensive rehabilitation program for several
weeks that included treating his wound with antibiotics every three days for
the first two weeks. The harbor seal responded well to the treatment and the
wound behind his left flipper began to heal rapidly.
Not long after he was
admitted to the aquarium, Hastings soon began to interact with enrichment
devices, the animal equivalent of toys, and his appetite returned. The harbor
seal gained nearly 20 pounds on a daily diet of around nine pounds of herring
and capelin. He was also treated to frozen fishcicles and a holey bucket with
fish inside to encourage his natural feeding behaviors.
Once the seal’s health
was fully restored to the satisfaction of aquarium staff and MARP volunteers,
it was time to return Hastings to his natural habitat in the Atlantic Ocean.
Early Thursday morning, Hastings was loaded into an aquarium transport vehicle
and driven by MARP volunteers from Baltimore to Ocean City, where he arrived at
the Inlet parking lot with a police escort.
Hastings’ crate was
unloaded from the truck and placed on the beach near the Inlet as a large crowd
of aquarium staffers, curiosity seekers, nature lovers and the press gathered
around. When the appointed time arrived, the crate was opened and Hastings
first popped his head out, apparently not sure what was expected of him.
When he didn’t
immediately come out of the crate, aquarium staffers lifted the back end to
give him some encouragement. Hastings then made his way across the beach toward
the ocean, but not before briefly turning around toward his crate, perhaps a
last connection to his four-month home at the aquarium, complete with three
square meals a day and lots of attention.
However, soon enough the
sea called and Hastings made his way toward the water’s edge as the crowd
parted to give him free passage. Once at the water’s edge, Hastings paddled in
and swam off, heading south briefly toward the Inlet before turning and
swimming north. The crowd watched the surf with the seal’s head occasionally
bobbing out of the waves until he was no longer in sight.
While the crowd on the
beach lost sight of Hastings as he swam away, they will be able to track his
progress. A satellite transmitter was affixed to the seal’s fur before he was
released, which will allow scientists and the general public to follow his
whereabouts. The transmitter will eventually fall off when the seal molts,
similar to a dog shedding its fur. Those interested in tracking Hastings’
progress can visit the aquarium’s website at aqua.org.