May 18, 2007

Aquarium Releases Seals Back Into Water

CHARLESTOWN, R.I. (AP) - Fifteen seals were released back into the water Thursday after being rehabilitated at the Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut.

The seals were trucked in last month after a rehabilitation center in Maine where they had been kept was shut down by the National Marine Fisheries Service.

The aquarium took in 21 seals, but only 15 - all yearlings - were well enough to be sent into the water. They were released from large carriers on Blue Shutters Town Beach.

The seals had been treated for ailments ranging from dehydration to parasites, said Heather Medic, the aquarium's stranding coordinator.

"Fifteen were ready to go much faster than we thought, and there are six that are still rehabbing," said David Labbe, public relations director for the aquarium.

The 15 seals were expected to head north to colder waters. Most of the seals are harp seals.

"It went really well, we were done in 35 minutes," Medic said. "I can't believe it."

The aquarium said it was the largest number of seals it had released at one time. The previous high was four, Medic said.

The seals came to Mystic after the National Marine Fisheries Service shuttered the Marine Animal Lifeline facility in Westbrook, Maine, New England's largest seal rescue and rehabilitation organization. The fisheries service faulted the Lifeline for releasing seals into the wild without testing for a pathogen that causes a contagious distemper-like illness.