ASSATEAGUE — The often-vicious circle of life that briefly saved an injured harbor seal pup turned the other direction this week when it died from injuries and illnesses at the National Aquarium rehabilitation center.
Last Friday, local photographer and naturalist Allen Sklar was making his rounds on Assateague when he saw a juvenile female harbor seal had beached itself, suffering clearly from various injuries. Lurking nearby was a bald eagle, presumably preparing for an early meal.
Sklar called the Maryland Coastal Bays Program’s Sandi Smith, who also coordinates the local seal steward program and volunteers with National Aquarium’s Animal Rescue Program. After learning of Sklar’s assessment of the situation, Smith began to intercede on behalf of the injured juvenile harbor seal.
“We collected the seal after Allen called me to let me know there was a juvenile harbor seal on the beach that didn’t look too good,” she said. “I came down and described the condition to the aquarium and sent Allen’s photos and they decided it was best to collect it.”
Smith said the injured juvenile harbor seal did not resist, which she deemed as a sign it was either ill or severely injured or both.
“It wasn’t difficult to collect, so that sometimes is a sign that the seal may not have been well,” she said. “Once the aquarium rehab team determined the seal was potentially in trouble, I called Ward Kovacs from the Ocean City Beach Patrol, who is also a volunteer for the National Aquarium, and asked if he could help collect the animal. Ward came and brought Mike Arbin, also an Ocean City Beach Patrol member, and we successfully collected the seal and met aquarium officials in Easton, who took the animal from there to the aquarium.”
On Tuesday, National Aquarium officials confirmed they had admitted the juvenile harbor seal into its marine mammal rehabilitation program over the weekend, but did not have any firm information on its condition. On Wednesday, National Aquarium officials confirmed the female harbor seal had passed away overnight. In the end, while Sklar, Smith and the other volunteers had temporarily saved the seal from becoming a feast for the bald eagle, its injuries and illnesses were too severe to survive.
While this particular incident ended sadly, seal strandings in the area each winter often meet with happy endings. Each winter, migrating seals of various species and sizes pass through the mid-Atlantic region as part of their normal migratory patterns and more than a few haul out on the beaches in and around Ocean City and Assateague.
Many are simply resting or sunning themselves along their journey, while others are ill or injured. The Maryland Coastal Bays Program and the National Aquarium Marine Rescue Program partnered on an outreach program for responsible seal viewing and sighting reporting.
Anyone who encounters a seal on the beach this winter is urged to call the aquarium’s direct line at 410-576-3880 so a trained observer can evaluate the condition of the animal to determine if it is just doing its normal activity or if it is in distress. Seal sightings can also be registered at www.mdcoastalbays.org