When Stacey Grasso and Kim Shaughnessy – co-teachers in a kindergarten class – started a class project on marine life, they had always planned for it to end this way, with the kids standing on a beach waving goodbye as a real life seal made its way back to the ocean.
On Thursday, Scout, a male gray seal who only two months before had washed up injured on a Southampton beach off of Dune Road, was released as a crowd of onlookers cheered him on, including the kindergarteners who adopted him and gave him his name.
Allison Chaillet, a biologist with the Riverhead Foundation, said that they found Scout on Feb. 6, underweight at 47 pounds, lethargic and with an eye infection.
The Riverhead Foundation is the group responsible for taking care of any marine animals that show up on beaches from Montauk to New York City.
“We get those calls,” she said.
Scout was one of eight gray seals in the Foundation’s rehabilitation hospital located behind Atlantis Marine World Aquarium in Riverhead. The organization has 17 seal tanks and five sea turtle tanks, which can also be used to house a variety of other sea life.
When Grasso and Shaughnessy contacted the Riverhead Foundation about their class project, they said the organization was more than accommodating. In the beginning, the students took turns taking home a stuffed animal of a seal and writing in a journal. Then they adopted the injured gray seal.
“Deb Sevigny from the Riverhead Foundation took the time to visit our classroom to provide us with a hands on experience regarding marine life,” Grasso wrote in a summary statement about the project.
The students interacted with artifacts from the sea like turtle shells, seal skin, and whale baleen. Sevigny also presented the class with an official name certificate, photographs of Scout, and a short description of his condition when he was found.
The kids had several choices to pick from before they voted to name their adopted seal. Some of the alternates were Scooter, Freckles and Spencer.
Technology played a role in education as well. The students were able to watch Scout on a live camera feed from his tank and they will be able to track his journey on the Riverhead Foundation’s website from the GPS locator that the scientists attached to him.
The class thanked the Foundation by donating needed office and cleaning supplies.
At West Beach in Port Jefferson, Scout was finally let back into the wild, a full 70 pounds and healthy again. The crowd reacted audibly as he peeked out of the red painted crate that Foundation staff and volunteers used to transport him from Riverhead. Other volunteers stood on either side of the gray seal with clear plexiglass “herding” boards to coax him toward the Long Island Sound.
Amid adult cheers and little children waving goodbye, Scout popped his head out of the water several times before disappearing for good under the waves to make his way home.
Afterward, Shaughnessy, who lives in Port Jefferson, talked about how the experience extended classroom learning. Many of the students even made first-time trips to Atlantis Aquarium and the Riverhead Foundation Rescue Center during the year.
“It’s increased their interest in marine biology and marine animals,” she said.
Chaillet said that one of the next seals to be released will be with a class once it’s fully rehabilitated. She said it usually takes about six to eight weeks before a seal is ready to return to the wild.
Click through our gallery of photos to see Scout make his way back to the ocean.