Delaware Public Media

Seal rescued from field at defunct New Castle County chemical plant

Mar 21, 2019

A young harp seal was rescued this week from the property of a shuttered chemical company along the Delaware River in New Castle County.


According to the Marine Education, Research and Rehabilitation Institute (MERR), the yearling seal had crawled from the Delaware River into a field on the property of Occidental Chemical, near the Delaware City Refinery, on Sunday.

“He’d come out of the river and had gone quite a distance from the river’s edge, back into this field of dried grass and mud and rocks,” said MERR Executive Director Suzanne Thurman. “So he was really camouflaged.”

MERR named the seal Jack, after the manager who spotted him.

“If it had not been able to make its way back to the water, he would not have been able to feed,” said Thurman. “He would have started to become more emaciated, he would have become dehydrated, and ultimately that can lead to death.”

Occidental Chemical is an EPA hazardous chemical cleanup site— but Thurman says the area where the seal was found is not an area of concern.

Thurman says the location where the seal was found is unusual. “It’s normal for seals to come out of the water so they can sleep,” she said. “But not up there out in a field in New Castle County!”

Thurman says the seal may have followed fish out of the Delaware Bay and into the river.

In 2017, MERR rescued a seal named Phil who had travelled 12 miles inland from the Delaware Bay to a tributary near Felton.

Thurman says Jack the seal was determined to be in good health. “He was just in beautiful condition. Beautiful body weigh. He had been drinking out of a sort of puddle, little ditch of water, so he seemed to be well hydrated. So we did an immediate relocation and release.”  

The seal was released in coastal Sussex County Monday.

“He headed straight for the water and started swimming out toward the ocean,” said Thurman. “He was very happy to get away from the humans who had been making his life miserable. They don’t know we’re trying to help them, so it’s very stressful.”