Strandings of Gray Seal Pups May Suggest New Colony on Mid-Atlantic Coast

It’s not uncommon to hear that the National Aquarium Animal Rehabilitation Center in Baltimore has admitted a new patient. The top-notch facility helps several stranded sea turtles a year and the occasional seal in distress from beaches in Maryland and Delaware.

But the most recent rescue, a gray seal pup brought to the animal protection and rescue center in late February, could be a sign of an important trend. The pup, so young it would still be dependent on its mother, is the third maternally dependent gray seal admitted in recent years. The continued presence of these pups indicates that there may be a colony of gray seals, known as a rookery, established in the mid-Atlantic.

That would be remarkable because there hasn’t been a known colony here for years. After gray seals were nearly wiped out by sailors in the first half of the 20th century, the Marine Mammal Protection Act passed in 1972 helped boost their numbers. With seal hunting illegal and subject to fines or even jail time, seals can once again roam freely along the East Coast.

The most recently rescued baby seal has been making good progress since being found dehydrated with infected wounds at Assateague Island National Seashore. The gray seal, nicknamed Louis Armstrong, was probably born in January and weighed just 35 pounds when stranded.

Louis was treated with antibiotics for his injuries and Aquarium staff are now working with him to practice independent swimming and foraging, skills he will need to survive in the wild.

Gray seals stay on the rookery during the breeding season, but are independent at other times of the year. The aquarium says that if there is indeed a rookery nearby, we are likely to see more seals like Louis in the Bay Area. The aquarium offers this reminder: “If you meet a seal on the beach, it may not be sick, but resting. If you see a seal, do not touch or approach it, and keep a distance of 150 feet, or about the length of three school buses. Please note your location and time of day and immediately contact the National Aquarium Stranded Animal Helpline at 410-576-3880.

NOAA will work with the National Aquarium to determine when Louis is ready for release. He will need to weigh around 50 pounds, so he has plenty of fish ahead of him.

-Meg Walburn Viviano

Comments are closed.