A baby seal was most likely looking for food when it was struck by a car and killed early Wednesday on a dark stretch of road on Long Beach Island.

The gray seal pup, which wandered ashore in Loveladies, N.J., was killed instantly, its skull crushed, on Long Beach Boulevard.

"It's a very rare occurrence when a seal dies on the roads," said Sheila Dean, co-director of the Marine Mammal Stranding Center in Brigantine. "Usually they stick close to the water's edge."

The male pup was 2 or 3 months old and underweight at 34 pounds, Dean said.

Long Beach Island, 18 miles long, is only a few hundred yards wide at its narrowest point in Loveladies. Dean said it could not be determined if the animal had come ashore on the ocean or bay side.

"It was just confused and probably hungry," Dean said. "It didn't know where to go."

Gray seals are born in January and February in Canada, primarily on the islands off Newfoundland and Nova Scotia. Young pups leave their mothers after about a month.

"He wasn't abandoned," Dean said. "This fellow was born early. But he was at the state where the mother would have left him to go out on his own."

The seal's carcass was taken to the New Bolton Center for Veterinary Medicine of the University of Pennsylvania to be tested for viruses and parasites. Results are pending, Dean said.

The Marine Mammal Stranding Center is routinely called to rescue seals.

"Historically, we get seals anywhere along the New Jersey coast," Dean said. "We pick them up in just about every Shore town."

Last year, 59 seals came ashore in New Jersey. Of those, 46 were alive, Dean said. In 2005, 108 came ashore, 92 were alive.

Gray seals are a protected species and it is illegal to harm or interact with them.

"Whoever did hit the animal, I'm sure didn't do it on purpose," Dean said. "But it really needed to be reported. They wouldn't have been fined for doing it."

Contact staff writer Sam Wood at 856-779-3838 or at samwood@phillynews.com