A wayward harbor seal many Delawareans know as “Phil” was successfully rescued Monday.
Residents near the Killen’s Pond spillway and the Marine Education Research and Rehabilitation Institute have been monitoring Phil since December. The seal first showed up in the Murderkill River and swam up to the Coursey Pond spillway in Felton right before Christmas.
But last week, Phil worked his way into a tributary - a muddy bog-like area. After a fisherman found him, MERR Institute executive director Suzanne Thurman said the institute knew it was time to help him.
“The mud is up to 4 feet deep in certain areas, there’s just so much mud and very little water,” Thurman said. “He may or may not have been able to get out of there.”
One of Phil’s eyes also appeared to be irritated - likely a reaction from being away from his natural saltwater habitat, Thurman said.
“We actually wondered if that would be the first sign that he was starting to react to being out of a saltwater environment,” Thurman said.
Over 20 volunteers and officials helped rescue the 55 kilogram seal out of the mud and transport him through fallen trees. Thurman said the team took more than a half hour to capture and rescue him.
Thurman said she is still surprised Phil stayed around for as long as he did. Seals follow their prey - fish. So if fish go into creeks, so do they. But what was unique about Phil, Thurman said, was he traveled more than 12 miles to get out of the Murderkill River, wiggled across Canterbury Rd. and made his way to the pond and stayed away from residents for nearly four months.
MERR frequently checked in on Phil but over the last few weeks, his sightings became less and less frequent.
“We could not have eyes on the area 24/7,” Thurman said. “It was really great the local residents were willing to call in sightings to us.”
When Phil was first spotted in December, MERR volunteers originally identified him as a girl because of a marking on his underbelly that indicated him as a female. They named her “Philomena”.
After a closer look in photos, they discovered the marking was a wound, and Philomena was shortened to “Phil”.
Phil is now at the National Aquarium in Baltimore being treated for his eye infection. He is also having bloodwork done to test for any other conditions or illnesses.