ASSATEAGUE — A somewhat reluctant Lilly, a juvenile grey seal rescued from the beach in Delaware and rehabbed at the National Aquarium this spring, returned to the sea at Assateague State Park on Tuesday morning after turning back a few times.
Lilly was rescued on the Delaware coast on Easter in early April after suffering a broken jaw. The young seal was transported to the Animal Rescue Program at the National Aquarium in Baltimore where it began an extensive rehab program under the watchful eye of aquarium staffers.
After two months of rehabilitation, Lilly was deemed fully recovered and was medically cleared for re-release. Lilly was transported from the aquarium to the beach at Assateague State Park on Tuesday morning in a crate, which was then carefully loaded onto the beach. With hundreds of onlookers lining both sides of the young seal’s path to the ocean and cameras flashing, the crate was opened and Lilly began a rather reluctant return to the sea.
Just moments after she took her first steps onto the beach, Lilly turned and headed back toward the crate, as if she was not quite ready to give up the three square meals of hand-fed fish and tender loving care she received from her handlers over the last two months. Eventually she made a bee-line for the ocean as the big crowd on hand cheered.
Aquarium staffers with large plastic shields offered encouragement and kept Lilly on the straight and narrow and she ultimately swam into the ocean and the somewhat rough surf. The crowd watched as Lilly’s head bobbed in the surf, but even after she was in the ocean, the young seal showed a willingness to return. On a couple occasions, she swam back into the wash along the shoreline before eventually heading out to sea.
When Lilly arrived at the National Aquarium on April 5 after being rescued from the Delaware coastline, it was touch and go for a while as the young seal was suffering from a broken jaw caused by an unknown source. The Animal Health Team closely monitored her progress and it appeared to be a near certainty the seal would require surgery to repair the broken jaw.
However, Lilly responded well to treatment and it soon became apparent the wounded jaw would repair itself without the need for surgery. With a daily diet of herring and capelin, Lilly gained around 12 pounds since being admitted in April.
Animal Health Team staffers worked hard on providing Lilly with an assortment of foraging activities to hone her natural hunting skills and ensure she will be able to hunt and eat on her own.
Lilly’s successful rehabilitation and return to the wild marks the National Aquarium’s Animal Rehabilitation Program’s 150th release. The Marine Animal Rescue Program works year-round to rescue injured or ill seals, sea turtles and other marine mammals and nurture them back to health before re-releasing them.
Last fall and early winter, the program was inundated with sea turtles rescued from a phenomenon known as cold-stunning and many of those have been rehabilitated and re-released. In addition, the program also rescues and rehabs stranded seals from all over the mid-Atlantic region suffering from either illness or injury. Because of the proximity of the National Aquarium to Maryland’s Atlantic coast, many of the rehabbed marine mammals are released from Ocean City and Assateague