Seven weeks after washing onto a Coney Island beach, sick and malnourished, a rejuvenated year-old harp seal was released Saturday afternoon into the waters of Shinnecock Bay.
Nearly 200 people watched as Nellie made her way 100 feet across sand and seaweed before splashing into the bay.
"She belongs back in the wild," said Rob DiGiovanni, executive director of the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation, which nursed the seal back to health.
The release occurred under the Ponquogue Bridge in Hampton Bays.
The seal, tan with black dots, was taken in by the foundation on March 1 after being discovered on the city beach.
At 55 pounds, Nellie was seriously underweight. She also was suffering from respiratory congestion and dehydration.
DiGiovanni said his staff gave her a physical examination, drew blood and checked for lesions before prescribing antibiotics. They fed Nellie fluids through a tube until she could handle solid foods.
Officials believe she's originally from Canada, and as an adult will weigh about 255 pounds.
Beth Laurinaitis, 45, of Bellport, was one of many people who "adopted" Nellie by donating to the foundation.
Yesterday's release, she said, was an early Easter present for her two children.
"I love to see them go back to their homes," said Victoria Laurinaitis, 8, already a veteran of marine mammal releases. She's now attended seven.
Kaylee Ryan, 11, of Shirley, said she saw Nellie at the Riverhead facility and became an instant fan of the seal with the "cute face."
In Hampton Bays, Kaylee was happy to see Nellie healthy and free again.
"It can go back into the wild where it belongs," she said.