waddled her way across the sand at in Port Jefferson on Monday, guided home by the enthusiasm and support of elementary school students cheering her back to the sea.
Edna – whose name was inspired by the that adopted her – was first discovered washed up on shore by a beachcomber at Robert Moses on April 3. According to Robert DiGiovanni, Jr., executive director and senior biologist at the Riverhead Foundation, a marine life rescue organization, the passerby called their hotline to report the gray seal, who was lethargic and had wounds on her body when she was found.
When veterinarians and biologists inspected her, they discovered that Edna had an abscess in her chest. She was nursed back to health in the Foundation's facilities at Riverhead Aquarium.
A grant from the Port Jefferson Royal Educational Foundation – a group dedicated to enhacing education in Port Jefferson School District – helped the biologists rehabilitate Edna and eight weeks later she was ready to be released.
Two busloads of third graders and their teachers arrived on Monday afternoon to watch the seal they adopted scuttle back into the water. The students were from the classes of third grade teachers Richard Dixon, Doreen Marullo, Amyjean Castaldo, Nancy Winkler-Brogan and Rachel Erikson at , the gray seal’s namesake.
Edna went reluctantly. Her crate had to be tipped over to get her out but once she got her bearings she sifted through the sand and splashed into the waves. A device affixed to her fur with epoxy will transmit her location for the next three or four months so scientists can track her migration and combine that data with other seals they’ve rehabilitated and released.
DiGiovanni said that historically, Harbor Seals were spotted more often in the waters around Long Island but more and more they are seeing gray seals. In aerial surveys he and other biologists have seen the population of gray seals go from a handful to hundreds basking on Little Gull Island, a small island off of Plum Island in the Long Island Sound.
The data they collect will help the scientists understand how they move back and forth in the waters around Long Island and possibly why their numbers have increased.
Funding from a handful of schools like Port Jefferson help the Riverhead Foundation perform its mission of rescuing and rehabilitating marine life that washes up on Long Island beaches.
“Port Jefferson is a lot more interactive than others through its afterschool programs,” DiGiovanni said of the school’s involvement in the Foundation and its mission.
This is the third year that the Port Jefferson Royal Educational Foundation has funded a seal release through the Riverhead Foundation.
The Riverhead Foundation also gets its funding from a combination of Federal and State grants but DiGiovanni said that most of the nonprofit's work is paid for through individual donations on its website.
Th average cost to rehabilitate a seal is about $6,500 over a six week period. Some animals take up to eight weeks to get better.
The kids cheered and screamed as Edna swam away, once or twice popping her head up to look back at the teeming shoreline. Scott Zamek, who is chairman of the Royal Educational Foundation, said that he hopes the experience helps inspire one of the children standing on the beach that day.
“Hopefully it will make an environmentalist or a marine biologist out of one of them,” said Zamek.
If you spot a marine animal washed up on the shore anywhere on Long Island call the Riverhead Foundation hotline at (631) 369-9829.