tampabay.com

Arctic seal found off Florida

By The Associated Press
Published May 6, 2007


HOBE SOUND -- A seal from the Arctic seen in Florida's warm waters shouldn't be thousands of miles from its natural habitat.

The so-called bearded seal was first seen Thursday south of Stuart and was said to appear sickly. It had been seen in the Intracoastal Waterway, and officials had hoped to capture it Saturday.

It is not clear how long the 300-pound, 6-foot seal can live in Florida's warm waters, and scientists said its chances of surviving are slim unless it is rescued.

The animal appeared dehydrated and thin, with its eyes sunken and its neck not as thick as it should be, officials said.

Normally, bearded seals are found in the icy waters of the Pacific, Atlantic or Arctic Ocean, said Blair Mase, mammal stranding coordinator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Since the 1970s, the only reported case of a bearded seal found along the East Coast was five years ago in Gloucester, Mass., said agency spokeswoman Kim Amendola.

Scientists on four boats were tracking the animal Friday night but lost sight of it about 2 a.m., Mase said. Teams were searching Saturday afternoon in hopes of relocating the animal and attempting a rescue, which could take as many as 20 people.

If officials are able to rescue the seal it will be taken to SeaWorld, where crews were filling pools with ice Saturday morning, said SeaWorld spokesman Shanon Larimer.

SeaWorld's hope was to rehabilitate the seal and return it to the Arctic Ocean.