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Shoebert, Beverly's Seal and Media Sensation, is Back

Shoebert the seal
After his rescue and release by Mystic Aquarium staff, Shoebert the seal has been tracked back to Beverly. Assistant Professor of Environmental Science Dr. Gordon Ober reveals more about the seal that caused a media sensation.
By: Madison Schulman

If you live in Massachusetts, chances are you’ve seen Shoebert the seal all over social media. If you haven’t heard of Shoebert, here’s what you need to know to catch up.

In September, a 230-pound grey seal was found in Shoe Pond of Beverly’s Cummings Center. Fascinated Beverly residents quickly dubbed him Shoebert. 

According to the Beverly Police Department, Shoebert first arrived in the Bass River, then somehow swam into the culvert connecting the river with Shoe Pond. After a few weeks of accruing spectators, all eager to catch a glimpse of Shoebert, the seal had his own plans.

Shoebert the seal

Late at night on September 23, Shoebert waddled over to the Beverly Police Station, where officers found him waiting. He was quickly captured by several agencies without issue and transported to Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut, where he’d been cared for four years ago after he was found injured in Barnstable, Mass. Given the name of Jekyll at the time, he was eventually released back into the wild.

After his most recent transport to Mystic, Shoebert was outfitted with a GPS tracking device, which will fall off over the next couple months, and released back into the ocean off the coast of Rhode Island. 

Now, satellite tracking indicates that Shoebert is back in Beverly to finish the adventure he started. 

We chatted with Gordon Ober, Assistant Professor of Environmental Science, about Shoebert's popularity and this unique experience. 

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Why did Shoebert come back after being released off the coast of Rhode Island? 

It's certainly possible he's back in the area! Especially if he made his way through the Cape Cod Canal (which would save some time). Seals and other marine mammals are pretty good at returning to and remembering certain areas.

Why do you think Shoebert has become a media sensation? 

First off, seeing security camera footage of a seal walking to a police station—that doesn't happen. I think that's obviously a unique and funny moment. Also, people care about seals. They're what we call charismatic megafauna—large animals that we feel a special connection to, so everybody rallies around and roots for these kinds of animals. You just don't hear about them ending up in ponds, especially in this part of Massachusetts. We’ll see them on beaches a lot, but to end up in a pond is a rare event.

As an environmental scientist, what does Shoebert's situation tell you?

It's an incredibly heartwarming and endearing story that obviously people in the community really cared about. Anytime we start to see a lot of seals around here, I always go to thinking of this as a conservation success story. It really provided those folks at the Mystic Aquarium and those researching marine mammals a unique opportunity to study movement patterns. Very rarely are seals going to go back exactly where they were initially assessed and surveyed by researchers. 

Endicott Professor Gordon OberWhy do you think Shoebert went into the pond? How do you think that happened?

I would guess he was following some food and got stuck in that pond for a little bit. He found a place to hang out, probably got a little turned around, a little confused as to how to get back out of there. But with a little human help and human intervention, it worked out alright.

What are some ways people can help support seals like Shoebert?

Massachusetts is a great state in terms of having resources for responses to marine mammals and marine mammal strandings. Anytime we see marine mammals, a good rule of thumb is don't approach them. They are wild animals, so certainly keep your distance. Even if you don't know the contact information for a local marine mammal rescue, contact local authorities who can connect to the right people who will do what's needed with these kinds of animals.

Shoebert photos courtesy of the Beverly Police Department.