Matsi Marina took a tentative look around at the beach as he made his first steps out of his crate and onto the sand. Slowly, he pulled himself along the shore and finally slid into the waters of the Shinnecock Bay.
Matsi, a 1-year-old male gray seal pup, was released back into Shinnecock Bay in Hampton Bays on Friday after being treated at the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation.
“The biggest problem we have with any seal even if it happens to be entangled in something or has lacerations is they don't eat,” said Robert DiGiovanni, 45, the senior biologist and executive director of the Riverhead Foundation. “The first thing that we overcome is trying to get some fluids in them and then trying to get them back up to eating normal food.”
When Matsi was spotted by a beach-goer in May, he was 67 pounds and suffering from dehydration and a condition called alopecia, or fur loss. After about 10 weeks of rehabilitation and care, Matsi gained an additional 13 pounds and was able to be released back into the wild.
Matsi, which stands for “fish” in Sanskrit, was named by Melissa Boyd-Sloan, a local business owner who donated $250 to fund the seal release.
“We wanted to help the organization that does so much to rehabilitate marine life on Long Island,” said Boyd-Sloan, 34, of Mount Sinai. “I think the Riverhead Foundation does really great work.
The Riverhead Foundation, which originated in 1996, responds to calls for more than 200 stranded seals, dolphins, sea turtles and porpoises each year. The foundation rescues marine animals along the shores of Long Island as well as Manhattan and Albany.
About 60 of the rescued animals are able to be released back into the wild each year.
In the winter, an estimated 60,000 to 70,000 seals migrate to the Long Island area. Fully grown male seals can eat up to 30 pounds of fish per day and can stay underwater for 20 minutes without resurfacing.
“This is our first [seal] release,” said Lisa Mattimoe, 44, of Stony Brook, who took her two 9-year-old daughters to see Matsi’s release. “We need to do this all the time.”
After several minutes of exploring the rocky shoreline, Matsi finally slipped into the water and slowly began swimming out into the bay, occasionally poking his head out of the water to look back at his rescuers.
“By our standards this is a good release,” said Riverhead Foundation staff member James Sullivan, 22, of Commack. “For him to get into the water and get into his comfort zone, its definitely a good time.”