Pippi Longstocking was rescued, spent nine months in rehab and was released on November 11, 2020. She doubled her weight, underwent surgery to remove her ear canal, and finally regained enough strength to be returned to her home, the Atlantic Ocean. This is not the red-headed orphan, but a grey seal found wounded in Dewey Beach last February.
Pippi began her journey at the National Aquarium after being rescued near Dewey Beach, Delaware in a coordinated effort with the Marine Education Research Rehabilitation Institute (MERR) on February 8. Upon her arrival at the National Aquarium’s Animal Rescue Center (ACRC), the Animal Health and Rescue teams estimated Pippi to be about one month old as she still had a small amount of lanugo, baby fur found on gray seal pups, on her tail. In addition, it was determined she was dehydrated, malnourished (underweight) and appeared to have an infected front flipper. The team quickly got to work treating her and hoped for a fast recovery for this very young rescue patient.
By early May, Pippi had recovered well from the initial ailments that brought her to the ACRC including doubling her weight since her arrival to 70 pounds and beginning to eat on her own. It was also during this time that the Animal Health team determined that Pippi was suffering from an ear infection, a particularly troubling diagnosis for seals due to their specific anatomy hindering the ability of treatments or antibiotics to target the area of infection.
The Animal Health and Rescue teams treated Pippi’s ear infection to the best of their ability, but additional tests were needed. This proved more challenging than usual because access to advanced diagnostics was temporarily unavailable at the time due to restrictions caused by COVID-19. Through working with the team at Veterinary Neurology and Imaging of the Chesapeake in Annapolis Maryland, they were able to obtain detailed radiographs and a CT scan. After confirming the diagnosis with the scans and reviewing all imaging, it was determined that Pippi would need to undergo a surgical procedure called total ear canal ablation and lateral bulla osteotomy.
Pippi underwent surgery on August 22 to remove her ear canal and a portion of the ear’s bony structure; this earhole is now permanently closed. Pippi’s surgery was performed by Dr. Sakthila Jeyakumar, BVSc (HonsI), MS, DACVS-SA of Chesapeake Veterinary Surgical Specialists. “The surgery performed on Pippi is the first of its kind on a gray seal. We had a great team and worked hard to prepare for all the possibilities we would encounter during the surgery. I feel very fortunate to be part of this team,” said Jeyakumar. “I have also enjoyed watching her recover and grow. We hope, now that she has healed, she will continue to flourish in her natural habitat.”
Following her surgery, the Aquarium team carefully tracked her progress and recovery. Given Pippi’s successful surgery and rehabilitation, she was deemed releasable. On Wednesday, November 11, the team bid Pippi farewell at Assateague State Park as she was returned to her ocean home.
“Pippi’s rehabilitation case is the longest seal case we have had since our program began in 1991,” said Jennifer Dittmar, Director of Animal Rescue at the National Aquarium. “While we did not initially anticipate Pippi to be such a complicated case, we are truly thankful for the partners, staff, volunteers and doctors who have helped get Pippi to this point. She is a fighter and we are very proud to have made it to the moment of releasing her back into the ocean.”