Injured and hungry: the seal is seen here in the water off Admiralty Park. *Photos by Charles Anderson
Injured and hungry: the seal is seen here in the water off Admiralty Park. *Photos by Charles Anderson
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Blind in one eye, its body torn on the reef and utterly exhausted from its 1,000 mile journey, a hopelessly lost harbour seal dragged its belly on to a beach at Admiralty Park.

No one knows how or why the bruised and battered seal, only the third seen in Bermuda in 100 years, ended up in such unfamiliar waters.

But it now faces a battle for survival every bit as tough as the punishing trip it made from its natural habitat on the eastern seaboard of the U.S.

Experts believe the adult male could have blindly lost its way or become ostracized from its colony before being tossed on the gulf-stream towards Bermuda.

It is now being pumped with fluids and antibiotics in a quarantine tank at the Aquarium, known only by the label WRC 2490. Rescuers are reluctant to name stranded seals in such cases as chances of survival are slim - less than one in 10.

The seal's unlikely appearance surprised onlookers as it splashed in the shallows on Friday afternoon. Passers-by later alerted the aquarium, which led a rescue effort, assisted by local fishermen, on Saturday.

"I think he's exhausted from swimming all that way," said Dr. Ian Walker, acting curator at the Bermuda Aquarium Museum and Zoo. "He looks like he's had a long hard journey. Right now I'm guarded about his chances. He's blind in his right eye, his vision is impaired in his left eye, I think there's some nerve damage and he's got scratches all over his body. He has a bunch of things wrong with him.

10 per cent survival rate

"There's usually a 10 per cent survival rate with stranded seals. We'll do everything we can but it is early days yet and I have no idea which way this one is going to go."

Atlantic Harbour seals are commonly seen in the cold coastal waters of New England and Canada.

Their natural diet of scaly fish like herring, cod and sea bass are in short supply in Bermuda and Dr. Walker said tests had shown that the seal's stomach was empty.

"His body was in a very weak condition. There isn't anything for them to eat here and that long swim didn't do him any good.

"I'm told he's only the third seal seen in Bermuda in 100 years. This was a big surprise for a lot of people. We've had reports before of seal sightings but usually it's just a dog swimming."

National Trust director Jennifer Gray confirmed it was only the third recorded seal sighting in Bermuda in over 100 years. Ms Gray, who used to work in the wildlife rehabilitation programme at the aquarium, said the said the previous cases were in 2001 and 1887.

The other seal that came to shore most recently later died from various ailments, including injuries from a shark bite.

"If they get to the point where they are handleable and they come ashore, it is usually a sign that they are seriously ill," Dr. Walker said. "He may very well have something badly wrong with him that we don't know about yet.

"Any sign of weakness in the wild and they will get preyed upon so they won't show illness until they are really incapable of hiding it, by which time they are often very sick."

But Dr. Walker said he still had a shot at survival:

"He's a lot better than the other stranded seal I saw in Bermuda and many of the ones I worked with in Baltimore, so he has a chance to survive. I'm holding out hope - let's put it that way."

The seal is currently being pumped with fluid and fed on fish gruel as aquarium staff attempt to get it back to strength. If it survives the initial stages and has no other illnesses it could be shipped to an aquarium in the U.S. to complete its recovery.

It is unlikely that it would be kept with the captive colony at the Aquarium because of the risk of spreading disease.

"That's a long shot and it would have to be more than a year down the line," Dr. Walker said. "I have started some initial talks with aquariums in the States to see if they wouldn't mind rehabilitating him there in the longer term."