In mid-September, our stranding partners in northern Massachusetts were inundated with reports of a young male grey seal who was seen in a pond…of a busy office park!
While this pond technically connects to the ocean, this seal had to travel all the way up a connecting river and through a cement tunnel to make it into Shoe Pond. Unlike whales and dolphins, seals can spend time out of water for many reasons. Teams monitored the seal and kept the public a safe distance away so he could return to the ocean on his own.
This young grey seal stole the hearts of the local community who affectionately named him ‘Shoebert’, and he quickly became a local celebrity (seal-ebrity?). The community followed his every move and made him the mascot of their town with commemorative t-shirts, seal-shaped cookies, hats, costumes, and nearly constant social media coverage.
Shoebert was curious about people and clearly adventurous – and showed no signs of leaving Shoe Pond after more than a week. Because of his tendency to wander, we became worried about his safety and collaborated to develop a plan to relocate Shoebert from the pond if he didn’t return to the ocean soon.
But, as the saying goes, the best-laid plans often go awry. Just days before Shoebert’s planned relocation, WDC’s MARR team received a call from local responders saying that Shoebert was wandering around a nearby parking lot! This scenario simplified the logistics for a rescue attempt, so we quickly loaded up our gear and deployed our team to meet up with our partners at NOAA Fisheries, the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), Seacoast Science Center, Mystic Aquarium, and Beverly Animal Control, Fire Department, and Police Department.
Along with being a cold, windy, and VERY rainy day, Shoebert had further complicated the rescue by returning to the water by the time supporting stranding teams arrived.
We had to get creative and try different strategies to capture and relocate him. While surveying the pond in a rowboat, we noticed that Shoebert was curious and swam around the boat. We tried to use this to entice him to shore where we had teams waiting with nets, protective “crowder boards” for corralling, and a kennel for transport, but his natural instinct to avoid humans kicked in. After a long and soggy day of unsuccessful rescue attempts, we packed up and went home as the sun set.
We were ready to return the next day in better weather, but Shoebert wasn’t finished with his surprises just yet! In the middle of the night, Shoebert decided to travel across a nearby parking lot where he literally turned himself into the police station near the pond! Security camera footage from the surrounding buildings confirmed that he made quite the journey. Local stranding responders were given a wake-up call and successfully corralled Shoebert into a kennel for safe transport to Mystic Aquarium for a health assessment.
On September 27th, after a complete health assessment by Mystic Aquarium’s veterinary team, Shoebert was cleared for release. He was outfitted with a satellite tag which allowed us to track his movement in near-real time in the days following his release. After a tour of Cape Cod, he headed back to the north shore of Massachusetts (a little too close to Shoe Pond for comfort). Grey seals spend time all throughout the North Atlantic and can travel great distances. We hope that Shoebert is now using his adventurous tendencies to explore his natural habitat!
Thanks to supporters like you, WDC’s Marine Animal Rescue and Response team was staffed, trained, and well-equipped to ensure a safe future for Shoebert. We are thrilled to be celebrating our one-year anniversary of this program – we are so proud of the responses that you have helped us accomplish and we look forward to expanding the MARR program in our second year.