'Phil' had been hanging out in the area since Christmas.

From Marine Education, Research and Rehabilitation Institute Executive Director Suzanne Thurman...

The Kent County seal was quite the talk of the town.

After several months of monitoring "Phil" the wayward Harbor seal, a successful rescue was achieved Tuesday when Phil was captured up near the Killen's Pond spillway where he had been happily spending his time.

Thurman related the saga of Phil and his rescue:

Phil first showed up in the Murderkill River at the Coursey Pond spillway right before Christmas. Normally harbor seals should be in salt water, but this seal undoubtedly followed the fish that were heading up the Murderkill from Delaware Bay.

Phil's presence at the Coursey Pond spillway attracted many curious spectators who were eager to view this beautiful animal in this very unusual location. Many locals from the Felton area took on a true sense of stewardship for the seal and helped MERR by calling in sightings so that we could keep tabs on him. Phil was named after one local fisherman and regular visitor to the area thanks to his dedication in watching over Phil.

The hope was that Phil would find his way out of the Murderkill and back to the bay, a journey of about 14 miles. However, during the first snowstorm of the year, Phil somehow figured out how to go out of the parking lot, up the big hill, and across Canterbury Road into Coursey Pond. This posed many challenges, since it was harder to spot Phil, and we were concerned about him recrossing the high speed road safely.

Phil was rarely seen at this point, but still the public continued to dutifully call in sightings. During a subsequent snowstorm, Phil was sighted up by the Killen's Pond spillway, where he would spend hours feeding, and letting the current carry him downstream while he floated on his back. He continued to be in good body condition, and was feeding well. But it was seeming less likely that Phil was going to make it out of there and back to the bay. With warmer weather approaching, and heavier public use of the area, plans ramped up to execute a capture.

In-water capture poses many risks to the seal and to the responders, while the chance of success is slim. However, Phil started to develop eye irritation, due most likely to the lack of salinity in the water of the stream. He made his way into a little offshoot of the stream, where he got fairly stuck in the mud. This was our best chance to successfully capture him, as long as we could keep from getting ourselves stuck in the mud.

With the help of 20 MERR volunteers, two staff members from the National Aquarium marine animal rescue program, and a biologist from DNREC, Phil was successfully netted and transported out of the area despite his best efforts to escape. The mud actually helped in that situation. It was a challenging rescue to be sure, and getting the heavy animal out of the wooded area of briars and fallen trees was an arduous task, but well worth the effort.

Phil was taken to the National Aquarium for assessment and treatment of any potential ailments that he might have. We hope he will soon be released and continue his happy life back in the ocean where he belongs.

Phil became a beloved visitor to the area, and we want to give special thanks to all of the locals and visitors who helped us to keep an eye on Phil. Special thanks also go to the State Police for blocking traffic during the extraction of Phil from the woods and into the rescue vehicles on the road.

Killen's Pond State Park and the rangers there were extremely helpful during this entire process. We also thank the members of the Specially Trained Animal Rescue Team who advised us throughout the process in terms of rescue plans, and again we thank the National Aquarium for sending two of their animal rescue specialists, along with the nets that ultimately captured Phil. A great team effort that achieved a happy ending!