Young Harp Seal Rescued In OC Improving At Aquarium

Young Harp Seal Rescued In OC Improving At Aquarium
Stuart Little is pictured in the pool at the National Aquarium in Baltimore. Photo courtesy of the National Aquarium

OCEAN CITY — A juvenile seal rescued from the beach in Ocean City earlier this month is on the mend at the National Aquarium’s Animal Care and Rescue Center.

On March 2, the juvenile harp seal was rescued from the beach in coordination with the Ocean City Beach Patrol and the Ocean City Police Department. The seal, now named Stuart Little, in keeping with the aquarium’s theme this year of naming rescued marine mammals after beloved children’s book characters, was observed eating sand on the beach when it was rescued.

When a harp seal is observed eating sand or rocks, it’s important to act quickly because it is a sign the animal is stressed and is likely dehydrated, according to National Aquarium staffers. Sand and rocks can cause damage to the seal’s digestive system, according to National Aquarium Animal Rescue Director Jennifer Dittmar.

“Harp seals typically eat ice for hydration during periods when they don’t have access to food,” she said. “When they move south into areas where there isn’t ice, they maintain this behavior and can eat whatever is around them, often sand and rocks. This behavior can also be a stress response.”

Upon arrival at the National Aquarium, Stuart Little was treated with fluids to hydrate him and flush the sand out of his system. The team took radiographs of the seal’s abdomen to check for rocks and, fortunately, none were found. Stuart Little, however, does require treatment for intestinal parasites. The seal now has full-time pool access and has started eating about 10 pounds of fish per day.

The National Aquarium’s first rescued seal of 2021, named Eloise in keeping with the children’s book theme, continues to do well at the Animal Care and Rescue Center. On February 12, the grey seal pup was recovered from the beach in nearby Cape Henlopen. Eloise was transported to the National Aquarium on February 14 for rehabilitation.

Animal Care and Rescue Center staff determined Eloise was malnourished with a few lacerations on her neck. Eloise was initially hydrated and nourished through an oral feeding tube, but has since progressed to the next stage of her rehabilitation. Due to the seal’s young age, she is still considered a maternally-dependent pup, meaning if she was still in her natural habitat, she would be relying on her mother for milk.

Eloise is now very active and loves enrichment activities that mimic foraging. She now weighs 35 pounds and is eating more than eight pounds of food per day.

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.