After surprising and delighting the city of Beverly, Massachusetts, a gray seal that took up residence in a pond and evaded capture for days finally handed himself in to the police in the early hours of Friday. No, really – there’s even video evidence.
“Over the past couple days the department has received numerous calls about a seal that has taken up residence in the Shoe Pond next to the police station on the Cummings Center Property,” the Beverly Police Department wrote on Facebook on September 17. “Our Animal control Officer has investigated and found the seal appears happy, healthy and has a large food supply in his current location.”
The out-of-place marine mammal was nicknamed Shoebert after his pond of choice, which became somewhat of an attraction for those who wanted a glimpse of the plucky pinniped. Shoebert is thought to have traveled from the sea into a river and gained access to the pond via a drainage pipe.
On September 21, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries New England/Mid-Atlantic wrote on Facebook that “The gray seal continues to swim freely in Shoe Pond. On September 19, it moved from the lower pond into the larger upper pond on its own.”
“Earlier today, biologists took depth measurements of the pond and assessed the seal’s behavior. Beverly Fire Department brought two rescue divers to scope out the bottom conditions of the pond. This information will better inform our response teams, in the instance that a rescue is necessary. We appreciate the support of all these groups!”
Shoebert was given a warm welcome to his new home (aside from attempts to capture him in a net), with a local shop making T-shirts in his honor and the police department temporarily changing their logo on Facebook to include a seal.
“It’s quite the adventure for him,” Mammal Stranding Coordinator for NOAA Fisheries, Ainsley Smith, told Boston25. “It’s okay being in the pond, we are concerned that it could come up on the grass, cross the street, cross the parking lot and we don’t want any people to be in its way when that happens.”
Well, cross the parking lot he did. “At approximately 2.30 am on 09/23/22 we had a visit from everyone’s favorite seal Shoebert,” Beverly PD announced on Facebook. “Shoebert made his way out of the pond and traveled through the Cummings Center parking lot and came to the side door of the police station for some help.”
Surveillance cameras captured the scene as it happened, with Shoebert merrily bouncing around the parking lot where he was greeted by a slightly bemused-looking officer.
“We were able to get Shoebert into a special wildlife carrier without incident. Shoebert appeared to be in good health and was a little sassy in the early morning hours,” wrote Beverly PD.
Shoebert was then taken to Mystic Aquarium, Connecticut, for a checkup and a little TLC. Manager of the aquarium’s animal rescue program, Sarah Callan, told Boston25 that “He is acting like a typical, feisty, four-year-old gray seal.”
In another twist to the tale, this wasn’t Shoebert’s first rodeo – he was already tagged. It turns out that the little guy had already been rescued in Cape Cod when he was just a pup, and was even sent to the very same aquarium. "He's not a stranger to us. He has come full circle. He was released in Rhode Island in 2018," Callan told NBC Boston.
Shoebert had distinctive scarring on his face that made him recognizable to staff as the very same pup that came to them years ago via the International Fund for Animal Welfare. He was given a full checkup, including blood tests and X-rays, and was found to be healthy. He weighed 106 kilograms (235 pounds) – lighter than the average adult of his species, but adult male gray seals reach maturity at age six, and Shoebert is only four years old.
Callan told Boston25 that “We are planning to release him in a quiet, remote location near other seals.”
That location would be Block Island in Rhode Island. The aquarium kitted Shoebert out with a satellite tracker to inform researchers about seal ranges, meaning he's doing his bit for science.
"Obtaining data on Shoebert's health and movements since his initial admit for rehabilitation in 2018 is a unique opportunity that is important in a world where ocean dynamics are changing at an alarming rate," Callan said, NBC Boston reports.
"Shoebert's contributions to science and research will help us understand more about the gray seal species as a whole and the role they play in the ecosystem."
Editor's Note: This article was updated on September 29 with additional information on Shoebert and his release, plus additional quotes.