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Human-loving seal that rejected wild arrives at Detroit Zoo

A seal with a fondness for New Jersey beaches - and the food-sharing fishermen and beachgoers that come with them – has arrived in Detroit after becoming a little too friendly with the locals.

A seal with a fondness for New Jersey beaches — and the food-sharing fishermen and beachgoers that come with them — has arrived in Detroit after becoming a little too friendly with the locals.

Since March, the 45-kilogram (100-pound) female gray seal had stopped on Long Island, New York, and New Jersey beaches at Sandy Hook, Island Beach State Park, Sea Isle City and Longport.

Kids went up and started petting it.- Bob Schoelkopf, Marine Mammal Stranding Center

Each time, animal rescue groups shooed it back into the water or treated it for illness or injury. But the seal kept coming back.

When people started petting it on a beach in Longport on Sept. 5, the Marine Mammal Stranding Center removed it from the ocean permanently because it had become too acclimated to humans.

"We would see it in Sea isle City, swimming among the bathers, not bothering anybody, but clearly too used to humans being around," said Bob Schoelkopf, director of the stranding centre. "In Longport, it came ashore and kids went up and started petting it. That's what sealed its fate."

Seal joins four others rescued

She arrived at the Detroit Zoo’s Arctic Ring of Life on Monday, according to a media release issued by the zoo Thursday.

“Since the pup cannot be returned to her natural wild habitat, we are happy to provide her sanctuary at the Detroit Zoo,” said Scott Carter, Detroit Zoological Society chief life sciences officer.  “The Arctic Ring of Life is an amazing habitat and she will be in good company here with our other rescued seals.”

Once the seal, now named Jersey, started allowing humans to pet her, she had to be moved. (Marine Mammal Stranding Center )

Named Jersey by the zoo’s animal care staff, the seal joins grey seals Kiinaq and Georgie, harp seal Pequot and harbour seals Sidney and Freita, all of which were rescued. 

“The Detroit Zoo has a reputation for being at the forefront of wildlife rescue, and we are so pleased that this little seal has found such a haven,” Schoelkopf said.

The animal's odyssey began on March 9 when Long Island's Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research responded to a report of a young seal with a swollen flipper. The animal was rehabilitated at the centre for just over three months and released on June 14.

On July 10, New Jersey's Marine Mammal Stranding Center received a call about a seal on the beach with a fishing hook lodged in its mouth. A technician from the centre removed the hook. Because the animal had no other obvious injuries or illnesses, it was released and went back into the water.

But two days later, the seal was back ashore again, this time in Sea Isle City, where a large crowd gathered, causing the animal to become anxious and stressed. The stranding centre picked it up and brought it to its Brigantine facility, where personnel noticed the animal had a cough, and put it on antibiotics.

When the cough disappeared and blood tests showed the seal had no illness, it was released at Sandy Hook on Aug. 18, having gained 9.5 kg (21 pounds) at the rescue centre.

"Throughout the next few weeks, there were dozens of reports of our seal swimming in close proximity to bathers in the surf," Schoelkopf said. "We got calls from people saying they had fed it."

After deciding the seal was too used to humans to ever return to the ocean, the stranding centre notified federal wildlife officials, who found a home for it at the Detroit Zoo.

With Files From CBC

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