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National Aquarium Celebrates 200th Animal Rescue Release with Return of Harbor Seal to Ocean

Seal was released at Gateway National Recreation Area in New Jersey after rehabilitation at the National Aquarium


The National Aquarium’s Animal Rescue team released a male harbor seal, nicknamed Phil, today at Gateway National Recreation Area in Sandy Hook, N.J. The release marks the Aquarium’s 200th animal rescue release since its Animal Rescue program was founded in 1991.

“The continued expansion of our animal rescue program, including staff, volunteers and facilities, led to 100 successful rescued and released animals in the last four years alone,” said Jennifer Dittmar, National Aquarium Curator of Animal Rescue.
“Returning a healthy animal to its natural habitat is always a joyful occasion for our team and it further provides us with the opportunity to inspire the public to make thoughtful choices each day to help our aquatic populations. Stories like Phil’s bring the issues to life and create meaningful links between our actions and the differences we can make.”

The male harbor seal was admitted to the National Aquarium’s Animal Care Center on April 11 after being stranded 12 miles inland in Delaware. The seal was being monitored as an out-of-habitat animal beginning in late December 2016 when he began traveling up a river in central Delaware. After moving into a muddy area with little water, he began showing signs of declining health and appeared to have difficulty maneuvering and finding food.

The National Aquarium Animal Rescue team worked alongside volunteers and staff from the Marine Education, Research and Rehabilitation Institute (MERR) to successfully rescue the seal. Nicknamed “Phil” after one of the MERR volunteers who watched over him, he was transported to the National Aquarium’s Animal Care Center in Baltimore, Maryland.

While on-site at the National Aquarium’s rehabilitation facility, Phil was treated for dehydration, an eye infection and a neurological condition. Aquarium staff carefully monitored the seal’s progress and provided daily enrichment and treatment for 12 weeks before determining him stable enough to be released into his natural habitat.

In addition to the Animal Rescue team, National Aquarium volunteers and national stranding partners through the Greater Atlantic Region Stranding Network (GARS) have dedicated tens of thousands of hours in the last 26 years to help the team with rescue operations, transports, animal monitoring, rehabilitation, releases and much more.

"The successful rescue, rehabilitation and release of Phil is the culmination of a combined team effort between the stranding network, local enforcement entities, and the local community who helped to watch over Phil during his winter stay in Coursey Pond,” said Suzanne Thurman, Executive Director of the Marine Education, Research & Rehabilitation Institute (MERR) in Delaware. "Phil’s amazing journey is a testament to the importance of our dedicated stranding network members, with more than 15 organizations responding along the mid-Atlantic coast. The collaboration of our expert teams is essential to our ability to help animals like Phil, and thousands of others each year, to live safely in their natural habitats. “
Since 1991, the National Aquarium's Animal Rescue program has been responding to stranded marine mammals and sea turtles along the nearly 4,360 miles of Maryland coast. The Aquarium is federally permitted by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to respond to marine mammal and sea turtle strandings and has admitted, treated and released to their natural habitats harbor, grey, harp and hooded seals; Kemp’s ridley, green and loggerhead sea turtles; rough-toothed dolphins; a harbor porpoise; a pygmy sperm whale and a manatee.

In December 2016, the National Aquarium announced plans for the construction of a new Animal Care and Rescue Center in Baltimore City’s Jonestown neighborhood. The 50,000-square-foot property, which is expected to be complete in early 2018, will provide a new home for the care and rescue operations of the Aquarium’s 20,000+ animals.

For more than 25 years, National Aquarium Animal Rescue has responded to and cared for hundreds of marine animals in distress. Their success wouldn’t be possible without the generosity of philanthropic individuals and organizations. To donate, visit

Animals, Rescues