A newborn harbor seal pup with its umbilical cord still attached is recovering and being fed after it was rescued from a popular Atlantic Beach resort where it was found by beachgoers Saturday morning.
Kimberly Durham, rescue program director with the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation, said her group received a call from someone at The Sands Atlantic Beach catering hall reporting a 2 1/2-foot pup on the beach.
Durham said before her team could arrive, people on the beach were pouring water on the pup and crowding it, actions that could have prevented the mother from getting back to her youngster.
"That much activity surrounding the pup, if the mom was still in the area . . . she would not have tried to retrieve the pup," Durham said.
The pup, a female from 4 to 5 days old with her umbilical cord attached but drying up, was lethargic and dehydrated when Durham's group arrived.
"She looked a little beaten up," Durham said, but it did not appear that she was abandoned -- the pup was plump, and had likely been nursing regularly.
"Something had to happen to cause the mom to leave the pup," she said.
Durham's group took the pup back to its Riverhead headquarters, where it was placed in the isolation ward and named Penny.
Rescuers are feeding the seal formula every three hours and monitoring its health while also trying to keep the pup from bonding with its human caretakers in the hope it can eventually be released back into the wild to survive on its own.
It was only the second rescue of a harbor seal pup for the Riverhead group. Durham said while harbor seals frequent the waters off Long Island during the winter, they don't often give birth here, preferring to do so farther north.
In 2005, the group rescued a 3-day-old male pup at Smith Point County Park. Durham said the pup was released several months later, but had to be recaptured when it was found malnourished and loitering around surf casters.
The seal, named Linus, was then rereleased in the winter, when a large population of harbor seals are typically in the area.
While Penny grows, Durham said, her group has to decide whether to release her on Long Island -- or bring her north, where other seals would be in the summer.
Durham said members of the public who spot harbor seal pups on the beach should stay 50 yards away and call the foundation's hotline at 631-369-9829.