National Aquarium Animal Rescue has admitted our second seal patient of 2021, a juvenile harp seal nicknamed Stuart Little after the character in the 1945 children's book written by E. B. White.
While E. B. White's Stuart Little was only about 2 inches high with a mouse's sharp nose, a mouse's tail and a mouse's whiskers, this Stuart Little is 43 inches long, weighs 48 pounds and looks very much like a seal in every way.
He was rescued in Ocean City, Maryland, on March 2 after he was seen on the beach eating sand.
"Harp seals typically eat ice for hydration during periods when they don't have access to food," explains Director of National Aquarium Animal Rescue Jen Dittmar. "When they move south into areas where there isn't ice, they maintain this behavior and eat whatever is around them, often sand and rocks. This behavior can also be a stress response."
When a harp seal is observed eating sand or rocks, it's important to act quickly because it's a sign the animal is stressed and likely dehydrated. Sand and rocks can cause major damage to the seal's digestive system.
"Harp seals are very prone to severe dehydration and blood chemistry imbalances, which can cause serious secondary problems," Jen explains.
Stuart was initially treated with fluids to hydrate him and flush the sand out of his system. The team took radiographs of his abdomen to check for rocks; fortunately, they did not see any. He does, however, require treatment for intestinal parasites.
He now has full-time pool access and has started eating about 10 pounds of fish a day.
The Aquarium's first rescued seal of 2021, Eloise the grey seal pup, is continuing to do well.
"She's very active and especially loves enrichment activities that mimic foraging," says Jen. "Her weight is up to 35 pounds and she's eating more than 8 pounds of food per day."
From now until late April, seals will be frequent visitors to beaches throughout the mid-Atlantic. Beached seals are not necessarily sick; they may just be resting. If you see a seal, do not touch or approach it, and keep a distance of 150 feet—about the length of three school buses. Please note your location and time of day and immediately contact the National Aquarium's Stranded Animal Hotline at 410-576-3880.