"Pup II," an injured harbor seal brought to the National Aquarium in Baltimore after washing ashore in Virginia in January, is to be released into the Atlantic Ocean off Cape Cod late today after a seven-hour truck ride to Massachusetts.
The seal, a 10-month-old male, has been given a clean bill of health by aquarium officials. The seal is the first marine mammal National Aquarium personnel have been able to nurse back to health and return to the wild, officials said yesterday while allowing a brief "photo opportunity" for Pup II at the aquarium.
"He's as good as new," Cheryl Messinger, the aquarium's marine mammal stranding coordinator. "He's slightly overweight, but that's OK."
When Pup II was brought to the Aquarium Jan. 29, he had suffered a torn left flipper, ling worms and dehydration, Messinger said. He was small and underweight.
Since then, Pup II has been given daily medication -- including antibiotics. His health now is normal and he has gained more than 40 pounds, Messinger said.
"Often by the time the animal strands, it is suffering from long-term injury of disease," said Brent Whitaker, aquarium veterinarian. "The odds are usually against us because the animal has been severely compromised. Our goal is to return the animal to the wild, but it isn't always possible."
Another seal was found in Virginia about three weeks before Pup II. Aquarium officials cared for it for two months but the animal had to be destroyed when it was unable to eat by himself and was suffering from severe bacterial and viral infections.
Messinger said the extra weight Pup II has gained will help sustain him until he can reaccustom himself in the wild.
Just before being released today, Pup II was to have a patch of hair on his head dyed bright orange or pink so he can be easily identified bobbing in the water.
The dye, which washes out in a couple of months, will help nearby marine specialists track and monitor his health, Messinger said.
"If they're going to re-strand, they're going to do it within a couple of months," Messinger said. She said Pup II is the only seal along the East Coast being released within recent months with the colored markings.
Messinger said she isn't sure Pup II enjoyed himself all that much at the aquarium.
"It's stressful," she said. "It's something he'd rather not have. Most of the time they would hide from people."