OCEAN CITY — A fully rehabilitated female harp seal rescued in February was successfully released from the beach in Ocean City on Thursday morning and has returned to the sea.
In February, a female harp seal now known affectionately as Sally Ride was rescued from Rehoboth Beach and was admitted to the animal care and rescue center at the National Aquarium in Baltimore for rehabilitation. At the time, she was in critical condition, displaying signs of dehydration, a parasitic infection and a severe lice infestation.
In the months since, Sally Ride has been under the care of the National Aquarium’s Animal Rescue and Health teams. The female harp seal received IV fluids, anti-inflammatory medications and oral antibiotics to slowly help her recover. Sally Ride’s seal lice infestation cleared up, she gained weight and redeveloped excellent swimming and foraging skills under the watchful eye of her handlers at the National Aquarium to the point she was ready to be released back into the wild.
She was released on Thursday morning from the beach at 40th Street in Ocean City. With a big crowd of curiosity seekers on hand, National Aquarium staffers unloaded Sally Ride’s crate from a truck and opened the carrier. The seal waited several minutes before exiting the carrier, perhaps reluctant to leave the comfy care she enjoyed for the last few months. Finally, Sally Ride exited the carrier and made a bee-line for the ocean. She was last seen with her head bobbing in the waves before she disappeared.
Each rescue season, the National Aquarium chooses a theme to name the various seals and other marine animals to come through its rehabilitation facilities and for this season the theme chosen is influential scientists. The harp seal Sally Ride was named for the famous NASA astronaut and physicist and first U.S. female in space and lived up to her namesake’s reputation.
The first seal rescued from the beach in Ocean City during this stranding season was named Marie Tharp for the famed cartographer and geologist who created the first scientific map of the Atlantic Ocean. Marie Tharp was released from the beach at Assateague earlier this month.
Another grey seal was rescued from the beach in Ocean City earlier this month and is currently under rehabilitation at the animal care and rescue center at the aquarium. Named George Washington Carver for the famed agricultural scientist and inventor who discovered over 100 ways to use the peanut among other things, the grey seal was underweight and lethargic when he was rescued in Ocean City earlier this month.
In the weeks since, George Washington Carver has been receiving anti-parasitic medications and is responding well to treatment. As a result, he appetite and energy levels have greatly increased, but there is no indication yet on when he might be released.
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, as was the case with Sally Ride. In either case, the seals present an adorable opportunity for residents and visitors to enjoy them from afar, but interaction with humans and even their pets can often have dangerous consequences. To that end, the Maryland Coastal Bays Program and the National Aquarium Marine Rescue Program partner each year on an outreach program for responsible seal viewing and sighting reporting.
Anyone who encounters a seal on the beach is urged to call MARP’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 on the MCBP website at www.mdcoastalbays.org.