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Sunday, April 18, 2021

Mystic Aquarium releases seal at Charlestown Town Beach

Harp Seal Released to Open Waters Following Eye-Surgery, Extensive Rehabilitation

A long and remarkable journey ended in success this morning for a harp seal found stranded a year ago, as he was released back into the open waters of the Atlantic at Charlestown Town Beach, Rhode Island. Connecticut-based Mystic Aquarium’s Animal Rescue Program transported the seal from their clinic to the beach and was on hand to ensure he made a safe return to his ocean home. 

This event represents the dedicated and collaborative efforts of many organizations spanning the entire East Coast, including the Marine Mammal Stranding Center in New Jersey, SeaWorld Orlando, the National Marine Fisheries Service, and the Atlantic Marine Conservation Society. 

The adult male harp seal was first spotted eating sand on a beach in Sea Bright, New Jersey in April of 2020, and the Marine Mammal Stranding Center began to monitor his activity. Two days later, he appeared on a dock in Staten Island, New York, where he remained until the team was able to safely transport him to their facility for the first stage of rehabilitation. 

The seal was extremely underweight at 185-pounds, showed signs of being completely blind, and was unable to find food on his own.  With round-the-clock care and nurturing, he gained back a good deal of weight, but showed no signs of recovering sight. 

In June, he was transferred to SeaWorld for further rehabilitation with a team of highly specialized animal care experts. Although SeaWorld was not open to guests, the park continued to accept and care for rescued animals in need.

In September, the SeaWorld veterinarian team determined that the seal’s right eye was damaged beyond repair and would not recover vision, and had to be surgically removed to eliminate potential further medical issues.

After many more months of rehabilitative care with the SeaWorld team, the resilient animal began to show the ability to track and catch fish with one eye. Catching live fish is an important criterion in assessing the animal’s ability to survive in the wild and, ultimately, be released. 

This past week, the seal arrived at Mystic Aquarium to reacclimate to the colder water temperatures. While in Connecticut, he was fitted with a satellite tag for post-release monitoring, in partnership with National Marine Fisheries Service and Atlantic Marine Conservation Society. The satellite tag will provide information on the seal’s movements, time spent out on land, and information about the temperature where he has traveled. 

Today marks the second animal release since Mystic Aquarium’s Animal Rescue Program resumed in November. Last month, a gray seal pup named ‘Burgee’ returned to the ocean after transport to the Aquarium’s clinic for rehabilitation