(An 8-month-old female harbor seal, known as Pup 49, swims in a pool at Mystic Aquarium in Mystic, Conn. (Associated Press))

MYSTIC, Conn. -- The harbor seal pup lay battered on a Massachusetts beach, the victim of a brutal attack by an older seal that left deep wounds all over her body and sapped so much of her strength that she couldn't even flee when rescuers found her.

Now eight months later, the animal rescuers named Pup 49 is adjusting to life without one of her two hind flippers after veterinarians at the Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut performed an amputation to prevent a stubborn infection from spreading throughout her body.

The seal pup is quick to dive after sardines tossed into her tank and fixes her large, dark eyes on aquarium workers the moment they step onto a special platform to feed her. Occasionally she swims to the platform's edge and attempts to haul herself from the water onto it. A special ramp has been installed to make it easier for her to get out. She makes the effort in a heartfelt plea for more fresh fish from the workers' shiny bucket.

Pup 49's fate is still uncertain. Officials at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration determined she should not be released into the wild, because having only one hind flipper may limit her ability to fish. That means that the seal will remain on exhibit at Mystic until the agency's Marine Fisheries Service decides on a permanent home.

Mystic Aquarium has already requested that the fisheries regulator let it acquire the seal pup.


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If approved, she will be moved off display for training until the fall and then will live in the aquarium's Pacific Northwest habitat. If the plan is rejected, Pup 49 will move to another institution that is permitted to care for rescued, non-releasable harbor seals.