Featured Image Credit: The MERR Institute
By Lindsay Edgar
It was a surprising scene near Killen’s Pond in Felton, Delaware on Tuesday. A harbor seal was stuck in a boggy area, surrounded by mud that was 4 feet thick. If that didn’t alarm rescuers enough, the desperate seal showed signs of eye irritation and dehydration. Not to mention that rolling around in the mud is generally not in a harbor seal’s best interest.
This wasn’t just any harbor seal either. This was the locally famous Phil the Wayward Seal. He has been in the spotlight since he was spotted migrating from the ocean to the inland, and he traveled over 12 miles up the Murderkill River. This wandering pattern is uncommon behavior for harbor seals but it appeared that he was following his food source.
For a few weeks, Phil became cozy at the Coursey Pond spillway. By then, the locals had been following his journey and frequently visited the area to catch a glimpse of the handsome guy. A team of volunteers from MERR Institute were posted on site at all times to instruct the public about the necessity to keep away from wild seals.
As if Phil’s story isn’t crazy enough, he even survived the season’s first snowstorm. He crossed the busy Delaware Route 15 and continued his journey inland. After that, Phil sightings became rare. Between kayak search parties and local tips, Phil was M.I.A. Then, a fisherman spotted him in the muddy bog.
The animal rescue team at MERR developed a plan to extract him safely from the bog, and once it was approved by NOAA they swiftly took action. Also on hand were two members from the Baltimore National Aquarium who oversaw the action and prepared to transport the seal back with them. The removal was a large undertaking – 20 volunteers assisted and Delaware State police controlled traffic at the site.
Now, Phil is under observation at the National Aquarium until he is healthy enough to be released back into the ocean. The community is thankful that their notorious, lovable harbor seal will live to swim another day!