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'Phil' the seal healing at National Aquarium

Almost two weeks ago, Phil the harbor seal was brought to the National Aquarium in Baltimore after being rescued from mud near Killens Pond, and the aquarium says he is recovering. 




Phil, the 55 kilogram wayward harbor seal that swam south into the Delaware Bay, to the Murderkill River and crossed a road into Coursey Pond in Felton - 12 miles from the Delaware Bay - is in rehab getting daily antibiotics for an eye infection. He likely developed an eye infection from being out of his natural habitat - saltwater - for as long as he was.


Kate Shaffer, the rehabilitation manager with the National Aquarium’s animal rescue program,  said the rescue team works with Phil every day. They give him eye drops and feed him seafood like sardine, herring and squid three times a day. Staff also hide ice in food to mimic how he’d be foraging in saltwater.


“We’re not treating him as a malnourished animal,” Shaffer said. “We are kind of gradually increasing his diet to what he would normally be eating in the wild.” 


Shaffer said Phil came to rehab in a lot better shape than most of the seals they see, especially for a seal found outside of his normal habitat. He spent months in the Coursey Pond spillway “enjoying his time” said Suzanne Thurman, the executive director of the Marine Education Research and Rehabilitation Institute.


In an interview with Delaware Public Media earlier this month, Thurman said MERR checked on Phil, formerly ‘Philomena’ frequently. But when Phil got stuck in mud near the Killens Pond spillway, she said it was time for MERR to intervene. Twenty volunteers helped net and capture Phil, to bring him to the National Aquarium for treatment. Thurman said it took over a half an hour to get Phil out of the mud.


“This was the most challenging stranding response we’ve ever had because of the length of time it went on,” Thurman said, acknowledging MERR’s efforts to check on Phil since December. “We sent people to monitor Phil a lot of times. The chance of capturing him in water was not only very slim but it’s a dangerous scenario for the seal and potentially responders.”


But with the help of Felton residents who monitored Phil and frequently sent photos of him to MERR when volunteers could not be there, Thurman said it was a successful stranding response.


Once Phil’s eye infection is cured, Shaffer said the National Aquarium can apply for his release through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.


“We do feel Phil’s eyes are improving but it’s too early to say exactly how long we think eye drops will be necessary to completely resolve his condition,” Shaffer said.


It can take NOAA up to two weeks to approve a request, and it could be longer for Phil. Because he was found outside of his saltwater habitat, Shaffer said they’re putting extra thought into finding a fitting environment to release him.

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