It took just over four minutes of encouragement from handlers and a crowd of seal watchers, but on Saturday, Aristaeus the seal finally returned home.
The mammal, which spent weeks recovering at the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation after he was found injured in Montauk, slowly cleared the shallow water off Ponquogue Beach in Hampton Bays before slipping into the first wave he saw — accompanied by cheers from relieved onlookers and his rescuers.
Named after a minor Greek deity, Aristaeus was found on April 14 with a swollen flipper and several cuts on his body. It was unclear how he got injured, the foundation said.
While the teenage gray seal later developed respiratory issues, pneumonia and congestion, foundation crews nursed Aristaeus back to health with wound treatments, routine physicals and antibiotics over the past two months, foundation officials said.
It typically takes around eight weeks and costs roughly $10,500 for biologists and doctors to treat and nurse each rescued seal back to health, according to Rachel Bosworth, spokeswoman for the foundation.
The nonprofit, now in its 20th year, has saved 1,930 animals to date, she said.
Rob Johns, 39, and his wife Marilena Johns, 38, of Melville, were on the shore watching the seal’s return with their sons Robbie, 4, and Mark, 2.
“He was so sad at first,” Rob Johns said of Robbie’s reaction to the once-injured seal. “He said, ‘I want to see the seal go into the water.’ ”
Later, Johns pointed excitedly for his kids to look at the water as Aristaeus popped his wet, shiny head out of the sea.
“What I loved was how everyone was working as a team,” Marilena Johns said.
Daniella Ferina, a biologist at the foundation who helped Aristaeus recover, said the most rewarding part of these events for her was helping the seals “return to the sea. It’s our mission, it’s what we do.”