Adult Harp Seal Loses Battle (UPDATE)

Hi all,

For those of you following our blog, I recently wrote about an adult harp seal we collected from Manchester, MA and transported to the Mystic Aquarium for rehabilitation. As you may recall, this animal had hauled out on a marsh and remained there longer then is expected for an adult harp seal.

After field observations revealed that the animal was thin and lethargic (behaviorally depressed), we made the decision to collect it. Upon entrance examination at the Mystic Aquarium, veterinarians took radiographs (x-rays) of this animal and made some significant findings.

This radiograph shows the three bird shot pellets lodged in the soft tissue
of the face of the seal.

They discovered three bird-shot pellets (shown above) lodged in the facial tissue, pneumonia in the lungs and medium and large size rocks filling the stomach. They also collected blood, which revealed that the animal was severely dehydrated. The bird-shot pellets were not new as there were no visible entry wounds. How much of a role that the gunshot wound played in the decline of the animal is difficult to determine. Seals when under stress will sometimes ingest rocks. In some cases, they can be passed, and in other cases, they can be harmful.

The team at the Mystic Aquarium worked tirelessly to treat this animal and stabilize its condition. They rehydrated the animal but no improvements in its behavior or attitude were apparent. Quality of life for animals in rehabilitation is paramount. Despite therapy the seal's condition continued to deteriorate and euthanasia was determined to be the most humane course of action. The decision to euthanize an animal is never taken lightly.

While we are saddened by the news we understand that surgery or multiple surgeries would have been necessary to stabilize this animal. Most likely one surgical procedure would have been required to remove the rocks from the stomach. A second surgery might have been necessary to remove the bird-shot from the face since one of the pellets was proximal to the eye. Surgery in marine mammals is difficult and poses its own risks, a seal in this condition would most likely not have survived surgery.

We would like to thank our colleagues at the Mystic Aquarium for their efforts with this seal.

- Connie


  1. What a terrible story. Thank you guys at Mystic for caring for the seal and for the awesome team at NEAQ that got him there.

    It's such a shame that humans choose to harm animals in this way, probably not thinking or caring about the consequences.

    I guess the only way to help prevent these types of stories is to educate as many people as possible.

  2. Mystic Aquarium is the nicest aquarium in Conneticut!

    We are 2 6th graders doing a project and we chose to base it on Mystic Aquarium!