BRIGANTINE, NJ — After taking “the bait,” an injured and underweight gray seal pup rescued from the snow-covered Belmar beach on February 11 is off to a speedy recovery.

Found stranded on the beachfront bleeding from her punctured front flipper and weighing only 32 pounds, the pup was brought to the Marine Mammal Stranding Center (MMSC) in Brigantine. Once placed in the facility’s intensive care unit, it appeared the two-month-old hadn’t figured out how to eat on her own after being weaned from her mother — the reason for her extremely low weight and weakened state.

It was only after she was offered live minnows — commonly used as bait while fishing off the coast — her instincts finally kicked in and initiated a feeding response, according to her story on the MMSC website.

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“Now that she is eating on her own, she has a big appetite,” MMSC posted in a February 19 update on its Facebook page. “This little pup will stay with us until she gains some more weight before being released.”

MMSC explained that gray seals, which weigh about 30 to 33 pounds when they are born, only nurse for about two weeks, and once weaned they are completely independent.

“These pups will live off of their fat reserves as they learn to hunt for fish on their own. It seems like this little one wasn’t successfully feeding herself so she dropped back down to close to birth weight,” her recovery team said.

As for the three small puncture wounds on her front left flipper, they are believed to have been caused by seagulls pecking at her as she laid on the beach.

Gray and harbor seals can be found in New Jersey waters through the early spring, when pups can typically be seen along the shoreline following the birthing season. They feed on small fish in the shallow waters and then come ashore to replenish their oxygen supply before returning to the waters.

Marine Mammal Stranding Center is a nonprofit organization that has responded to some 5,600 animal strandings in New Jersey since opening in 1978. In the last 10 years, the most-common species that have washed up are gray seals, harbor seals, loggerhead sea turtles and bottleneck dolphins.

For more information about the Brigantine-based center, including becoming a member, adopting a seal or learning of other ways to contribute to its mission to release, rehabilitate and release these animals, click here.


What You Should Know About Seals

Most seals come to the shore just to rest, and if you approach them, they may get scared and return to the water before they’re ready, according to the Marine Mammal Stranding Center.

That’s why it’s important to stay at least 150 feet away. Plus, it’s against federal and state regulations to touch them.

To report a seal sighting, call the stranding center on its 24-hour hotline at 609-266-0538.