'Peconic,' the gray seal pup rescued from the Riverside traffic circle April 3, was released into the ocean Friday morning in Hampton Bays by the New York Marine Rescue Center. Screenshot from video provided by New York Marine Rescue Center.

“Peconic,” the seal pup that made headlines this week when he emerged from the Peconic River and made his way into the Riverside traffic circle early Sunday morning, is now happily back in his natural element.

The New York Marine Rescue Center, based in Riverhead at the Long Island Aquarium, released the young seal at Tiana Beach in Hampton Bays Friday morning. The nonprofit rescue group took the pup in for assessment and rehabilitation Sunday morning, after Southampton Town Police corralled him in a parking lot off the traffic circle.

The seal, a male gray seal, is about 3 months old, said Rescue Program Director Maxine Montello. Gray seal pups leave their mothers about 3-4 weeks after birth, when they’re completely done nursing, she said.

He was in alert and vocal and in good health when rescue workers picked him up, Montello said. He had a few superficial cuts, but nothing serious, she said. “And he had a good belly.” The pup likely followed fish up the river and into Grangebel Park in downtown Riverhead Sunday. He left the river by a fishway built to assist migrating Alewives to their spawning ground.

Southampton Town Police began receiving calls about the wandering marine mammal at about 6:30 a.m. Sunday.

The rescue center conducted an assessment, including blood tests, to determine the pup’s health condition, Montello said today.

“All the tests showed the animal was in good condition, so we didn’t keep him for long-term rehab. We gave him fluids and fish.” He was also tagged on a rear flipper with a numbered blue tag, signifying it was placed by the Riverhead rescue program.

“We don’t want to see him again,” Montello said. “But if we do, he’s tagged, so we’ll know he’s our guy,” she said.

“Seals forage in the area all the time,” Montello said. “They are OK in fresh water for a limited amount of time.”

Sightings of seals that appear to be in distress should be reported to the rescue center at its 24-hour hotline: 631-369-9829.

Peconic was very lucky, she said. “If that was a Friday night, we would have had a different story.”

The New York Marine Rescue Center rescues between 30 and 50 seals during the peak of the season, January through May. The animals are federally protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, Montello noted.

“There’s a huge issue with entanglement — fishing gear and other human-related causes for stranding,” Montello said. The group also rescues and cares for dolphins and sea turtles.

‘Peconic,’ the gray seal pup rescued from the Riverside traffic circle April 3, was released into the ocean Friday morning in Hampton Bays by the New York Marine Rescue Center.
Courtesy photo: New York Marine Rescue Center

Southampton Police accompanied the rescue program staff to the beach for Peconic’s release. They set him free about 20 feet from the water, to “give him enough momentum” to set off in the water, Montello said.

The pup undulated his way across the beach to the ocean’s edge. “When he got to the the surf, he turned around and looked at everybody,” Montello said.

Peconic bobbed his head up and down for a moment as if to bid his human onlookers farewell, then turned back toward the ocean, entered the water and swam away.

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Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.