A thin and dehydrated harbor seal pup that became stranded Sunday on a Virginia beach was eating well today at the National Aquarium in Baltimore, officials said.
The pup -- the third to be nursed at the aquarium in the past year -- has a "ferocious" appetite and has been gobbling up seven pounds of fish a day since arriving in Baltimore, said David Schofield, the aquarium's marine mammal stranding coordinator.
"She seems to be in pretty good shape," Schofield said. "We at this time are optimistic about a possible release, but a stranded animal may run into complications."
The animal is believed to be about 7 months old, but weighs only 50 pounds, making her about 40 pounds underweight for her age, he said.
She was discovered Sunday by a military beach patrol at the Dam Neck Naval Base south of Virginia Beach. Naval personnel called in the Virginia Marine Science Museum, which evaluated the animal and provided first aid.
VMSM officials then alerted mammalogists at the National Aquarium, who later picked up the animal in Richmond for the ride back to Baltimore.
In addition to being thin, the seal pup also shows signs of a respiratory infection and an injured right flipper, officials said.
Experts at the aquarium were treating her with fluids and salt tablets for the dehydration, and with antibiotics to control parasites and ward off pneumonia.
Seals stranded at this age frequently have heartworms and lungworms and "they are abandoned by the older animals," Schofield said. "It's nature's way of weeding out the animals that are not keeping up with the group."
Mammalogists who have worked with such animals before believe the degree of parasite infestation and remaining vigor of the stranded animal's immune system will determine whether it will survive after being rescued by humans.
"If we can get the weight back on them, and catch them early enough before their immune system starts to go," they stand the best chance of survival, Schofield said.
Two harbor seal pups that washed up on Virginia beaches last winter were brought to the National Aquarium for treatment. One survived to be returned to the sea.