We hardly noticed him. Here in the midst of gentle tides, strolling along a pebble-strewn beach, we were carefree. It was as though he, too, was playing. Intent on pebble hunting, we periodically looked up and noticed he was still there, his black head shining in a sea of waves.
"Looks like a dog," my friend commented. From West Coast experience, I responded, "I think it's a seal."
He was swimming just offshore, keeping pace, and studying us. I clapped my hands, and called to him: "He wants to play." He dove, circled, and swam closer. We sensed something unusual and asked him if he needed help.
He swam almost to the shore and then let the tide bring him closer and closer to us, until he lumbered out of the water, onto the sandy beach. He was beautiful with his dark coat, flippers, soulful eyes, whiskers, and sharp teeth. He looked like a baby, quite rotund, and about four feet in length from snout to back flippers. His trust in coming to us – worlds apart in natural habitat – deeply connected us.
Our conversation and soft singing seemed to put him at ease and comfort him. He stretched his long neck, wiggled and squirmed, but wasn't able to move from lying on his side. We named him Andre. For all we knew, "he" could be Audrey!
"The harbor master will know what to do," I said. We phoned the harbor master but the answering machine redirected the call to the police, who listened to our story. Shortly after Andre beached, three women came along. One was a high school senior, studying marine biology. She was passionate about the ocean and its inhabitants and phoned a nearby marine lab, a friend at an oceanographic institute – every resource she could think of. Then she jumped into action when, from a distance, a man appeared with his large dog – off-leash. Andre had a strong support team!
About an hour had passed since Andre beached. By this time, his dark coat was drying to a beautiful silvery-beige, and everyone passing by admired him, offered sympathy and advice, then continued on their walks. One man said he had read something about what to do if you found a beached animal, but couldn't remember what that was. Others confirmed that we shouldn't touch him.
We finally phoned the New England Aquarium. They said the tide was coming in and would lift and move the seal naturally back out to sea. They also said they would contact the aquarium seal rescue team to send someone to monitor his welfare. That was the first promising news we heard from "resource experts." Andre's little support group continued to encourage him, and our aspiring marine biologist, in desperation, phoned her best resource – her father.
The tide started to ripple toward, up to, and finally wet the sand under Andre's sleek body. His beady eyes continued to study us, and everyone assured him that his family would be searching for him. "They are likely keeping an eye on him from a distance, wondering why he's hanging out with beached humans."
Just as the tide crested, barely reaching him, Dad came to the rescue with his blanket and his oar. Carefully wedging the oar into the sand at an exact angle, Dad lifted Andre up, and with a few scoots, rolled him onto his tummy, then plopped him into the water.
All cheered heartily as Andre swam seaward, then reappeared a good way offshore, his little head bobbing in the waves until it could only be seen as a tiny speck in the distance.