MYSTIC, Conn. — The harbor seal pup lay battered on a Massachusetts beach, the victim of a brutal attack by an older seal that left deep wounds all over her body and sapped so much of her strength that she couldn't even flee when rescuers found her.
Now eight months later, the seal animal rescuers named Pup 49 is adjusting to life without one of her two hind flippers after veterinarians at the Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut performed an amputation to prevent a stubborn infection from spreading throughout her body.
The seal pup is quick to dive after sardines tossed into her tank and fixes her large, dark eyes on aquarium workers the moment they step onto a special platform to feed her. Occasionally she swims to the platform's edge and attempts to haul herself from the water onto it. A special ramp has been installed to make it easier for her to get out. She makes the effort in a heartfelt plea for more fresh fish from the workers' shiny bucket.
“She has a really inquisitive and interested personality, and she is very interactive with the environment around her,” said Mystic Aquarium veterinarian Allison Tuttle, who supervises the pup's treatment and care.
None of that personality was apparent when workers found the seal stranded last July. She was 1 month to 2 months old and was nursing very deep wounds that were infected, Tuttle said. She did not respond well to cleaning and medical treatment.
Vets noted that the infection had spread to additional bones and they decided to amputate her stricken flipper.
That decision was not taken lightly. The rear flippers of seals are the part of their body they use to navigate while swimming. For the seal pup it meant learning to use her left front flipper to guide her.
Aquarium visitor Sharlene Cirillo was touched after hearing the story of the seal's tragedy at such a young age.
“I'm a mom and, you know, you think about something happening to your child and how hard that must have been,” she said while visiting Pup 49's temporary exhibit. “It feels like you can understand how hard it was and almost make it personal.”
Pup 49's fate is still uncertain. Officials at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration determined she should not be released into the wild, because having only one hind flipper may limit her ability to race after the fish, squid and other marine creatures she needs to feed on.
That means that the seal will remain on exhibit at Mystic until the agency's Marine Fisheries Service decides on a permanent home.