The 4-year-old gray seal probably just wanted to get away for a while, have a little downtime. The hubbub of the North Atlantic would still be there when he got back.
His vacation spot, a small pond inside a suburban office park, wasn’t all that glamorous. But it had plenty of fish — a “well-stocked office kitchenette” the office park called it — and no sharks. Best of all, it was all his, a freshwater retreat where he could relax and disconnect. There was even a wall where he could lie in the late-summer sun.
But in his apparent quest for solitude, the seal became a sensation. Crowds flocked to Beverly’s Shoe Pond to see the reclusive pinniped, who made his inland escape on a tide-swollen Bass River before making his way up a culvert and into the pond. Nicknamed “Shoebert,” after his new home, he graced T-shirts and inspired a new ice cream dish, “Shoebert’s Special S’more.”
With each day, his legend grew, although people seemed to understand Shoebert was a reluctant celebrity. Officials posted a sign by the water that read “Give Seals Space,” and the Cummings Center office park urged people to “respect Shoebie’s personal space and professional environment.”
Still, the fanfare must have become a bit much. After evading several rescue attempts in recent days, Shoebert seemed to decide it was time to head home, and he had stayed in the pond long enough to know the lay of the land.
Early Friday morning, Shoebert waddled his way across a parking lot “and came to the side door of the police station for some help,” according to the Beverly Police Department. Shoebert’s epic tale had ended but on his terms.
Members of the Beverly Animal Control, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the International Fund for Animal Welfare, and the fire department helped rescue Shoebert, guiding him into a wildlife carrier, police said.
The seal was then taken to Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut “for observation and any needed medical care before his future release to the wild,” police said.
“Thank you Shoebert for having faith in the BPD, you will be deeply missed by your friends here,” police said in a Facebook post. “Over the past week you brought a lot of joy and happiness to our city. Feel free to come back and visit anytime!”
Officer Michael Bucci said the department had received notice that the seal was about to turn himself in.
“The security guard at the Cummings Center called us and said, ‘Shoebert’s on his way over!’,” he said.
Sarah Callan, the assistant manager of animal rescue at Mystic Aquarium, said she drove up from Connecticut to collect Shoebert from the police station around 6 a.m., just before sunrise. Aquarium staff used a forklift to bring Shoebert’s crate to a pool, where he will spend some time recuperating.
“He’s resting now in his pool, sleeping, and he had lunch this afternoon,” Callan said.
Shoebert is given fish from behind a tarp so he won’t associate humans with food, Callan said. Health examinations are his only human interaction, Callan said.
“To him, fish fall from the sky, essentially,” she said. Shoebert’s plan had clearly paid off.
Gray seals can survive in fresh water, and he seemed to be in good health when he was brought in, Callan said. As it turned out, Shoebert had been at the aquarium when he was “just a little, tiny pup” after being rescued from Cape Cod in 2018 with severe facial wounds, she said.
Shoebert still has a scar on his face, is missing a digit on his back flipper, and had a tag from his previous visit, Callan said.
Shoebert will be in the Animal Rescue Clinic through at least Saturday, she said, before being released into the ocean.
“We’re going to do a release for him in a remote location near other seals,” Callan said. “The best thing for him is to be far away from us.”
Shoebert was taken to Connecticut eight days after arriving at Shoe Pond and four since he traveled over a grass-covered dam and a small wire fence to reach a larger, upper pond, said Steve Drohosky, the general manager of Cummings Center.
By Wednesday, officials with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration — working with the town — had started planning a rescue mission after the seal swam from the lower pond to the larger upper pond.
On Thursday morning, Shoebert was found on a patch of grass in the Cummings Center parking lot, but crews were not prepared with the proper equipment to snag him, Callan said.
That day, when they came back with gear, rescuers spent several hours trying to catch him, but he slipped away from them every time. Shoebert showed interest in the boat, so the plan was to coax him toward a shoreline in order to efficiently catch him with a net, Callan said. But Shoebert’s swiftness posed a challenge to those trying to corral him.
Gray seals are found in coastal waters throughout the North Atlantic and on rocky coasts, islands, and icebergs, according to NOAA. A small pond, however peaceful, was not Shoebert’s natural habitat.
“He’s an ocean seal,” Drohosky said Thursday, citing information from NOAA officials. “We all don’t have to be seal experts to realize that this seal ultimately needs to be back in the ocean. It’s a matter of how and when that happens.”
But the seal didn’t need long to charm the locals. Cherry Farm Creamery, an ice cream shop in Danvers, created a dish — “Shoebert’s Special S’more” — in his honor, and Sully’s Brand, a T-shirt company in Beverly, unveiled a royal blue shirt featuring Shoebert’s whiskered face inside a heart.
“He’s kind of a regional celebrity at this point,” said Chris Wrenn, owner of Sully’s Brand. “It’s almost like a children’s storybook come to life.”
On Friday, when police announced on Facebook that Shoebert had been taken to the aquarium, residents bid farewell.
“Thank you to everyone who has taken such good care of Shoebert during his time here,” one person wrote. “Happy life, Shoebert! You’ll be missed!!”
And what a tale he has to tell.