Rescued Juvenile Harp Seal Returns to Ocean as National Aquarium Announces Ocean City Presence

Animal Rescue team will now respond to stranding events locally from permanent satellite location

A juvenile harp seal that was found underweight and dehydrated on Rehoboth Beach in late February has made a full recovery after rehabilitation at the National Aquarium and has been returned to its ocean home. The seal, nicknamed Prince after the legendary pop music icon in keeping with the Aquarium's current seal rescue naming theme, soloed back into the waves of the Atlantic Ocean near 40th Street in Ocean City, Maryland on Tuesday morning, April 4, 2023.

Prince was admitted to the National Aquarium Animal Care and Rescue Center (ACRC) in Baltimore for medical care on February 28, after being spotted in a weakened state on Rehoboth Beach by Aquarium colleagues at MERR (Marine Education, Research & Rehabilitation) Institute in Lewes, Delaware. Judging by his 42-pound weight when rescued, the Animal Rescue team was able to determine that Prince was likely born in the Arctic sometime at the end of April 2022.

Prince was rescued after exhibiting signs of dehydration, malnutrition and sea lice. While at the ACRC, he was initially treated for lice and with fluid therapy to address dehydration before tackling the challenge of boosting Prince up to a healthy weight for a seal his age without discouraging his natural feeding instincts. Prince was able to get his weight back up to a healthy 53 pounds by foraging for and taking in an impressive 14 pounds of fish per day—nearly a quarter of his body weight.

Prince's successful rescue, rehabilitation and release provide the Aquarium with an opportunity to announce the permanent placement of National Aquarium Animal Rescue staff and volunteers on the Atlantic Coast. Under the direction of Stranding Response & Triage Manager Kate Shaffer, a team of volunteers will have an ongoing presence on Maryland beaches where they will be able to quickly respond and react to seal sightings as well as other sea turtle and marine mammal stranding situations.

This full-time presence will allow National Aquarium Animal Rescue to efficiently and effectively assist as many animals in distress as possible while eliminating the obstacle of the long commute from Baltimore when responding to precarious animal health events. To that end, the National Aquarium is pleased to announce a formal partnership with the Town of Ocean City to establish a private animal triage and exam space within the Ocean City municipal complex at 65th Street, allowing the team to assess the needs of rescued animals and establish itself as a reliable partner within the greater Ocean City community.

"We are so excited to have an official presence here on the Atlantic Coast," said Shaffer. "This region is critical to our work to care for protected and threatened marine species, and being here full time allows us to be more responsive and efficient when time is of the essence. We are grateful to Mayor Rick Meehan, Public Works Director Hal Adkins and members of the Ocean City government for their support in establishing a work site and welcoming us so warmly, and we look forward to making a difference for animals and our neighbors here in this dynamic community."

Mayor Meehan agrees, adding: "We are thrilled to partner with the National Aquarium and have marine animals treated right here in Ocean City. For the National Aquarium to have an ongoing presence in Ocean City will be highly beneficial for marine life."

Before his release, Animal Care and Rescue staff attached a roto-tag to Prince's back flipper. This process allows the Animal Rescue team to identify Prince if he ever again requires human care and produces a sample of Prince's DNA which can be used to help researchers better understand and support the seal species that travel up and down the Eastern Seaboard. In 2022, our animal rescue and animal health teams cared for a grey seal nicknamed Louis Armstrong that was the first seal to receive this special tag at the National Aquarium.

National Aquarium Animal Rescue is federally permitted by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to respond to sick and injured sea turtles and marine mammals along Maryland's 3,190 miles of coastline. Seal rescue season in the mid-Atlantic typically lasts from the early winter through May. Should you encounter a seal on the beach, it may not be sick, only resting. Do not touch or approach it and maintain a distance of 150 feet from the animal. Note your location and time of day and immediately contact the National Aquarium's Stranded Animal Hotline at 410-576-3880.

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