Peering over the side of our dock in the San Juan Islands, I scanned the water, waiting to see what everyone was talking about. That's when I saw the huge dark eyes looking at me. I knew it was just a seal pup, but something in the way that his glimmering eyes returned my own look of curiosity made me realize that this seal was like no other I'd ever seen. This seal was George.
We gave him that name after "Curious George," due to his complete lack of fear and persistent interest in us on the dock. For the whole first day, we couldn't stop following him around the perimeter of our dock as he nibbled on the algae and cried out for his mother. That's when I noticed the soft, pink tube attached to his belly; it was an umbilical cord. The pup couldn't have been more than two days old, and yet he was all alone. Sometimes he would swim away, but he always came back... always. At first we thought it was cute that he kept wiggling his way back to us, until we noticed that that he clearly had been abandoned, and had nowhere else to go.
The second day that he was at the dock, still without his mother's milk, I put on my wetsuit and slipped into the icy water of the Puget Sound. George looked skinnier than before, and stopped going under the water for long periods of time. Instead he floated at the top, eyes tightly closed. Treading the water, I swam up to him, so that we were less than two feet away. My heart went out to George, and I just hoped that he had the energy to catch it. His eyes fluttered open and he looked at me with a hint of despair. Swimming up to me, his little body dunked under the water, and he was gone. I, assuming that I scared him away, started to swim back towards the dock, until suddenly, I saw his silvery fur beneath me. He popped up between my arms, head bobbing against my chest. George looked up at my astonished face, and I was trapped in his sweet story. It was a magical moment. But I knew and my family knew that George wouldn't make it without some help.
We desperately called the wildlife hotline, but had no luck due to their policy of not intervening with seal pups. We noticed that George was developing flaps of empty skin, his small body shrinking by the hour. We all got on paddleboards and kayaks, trying to comfort the helpless baby. Turns out, all George needed was some love.
For three days we spent hours in the water with George as he climbed up onto our paddleboards for sunbathing, bobbed up around our kayaks for attention, and circled and rubbed our legs playfully as we swam. But we all knew this was a fleeting moment of joy. So, again, we got in contact with the local wildlife volunteers on the island. They finally agreed to come to our dock and check him out. They were concerned that in the absence of his mother, he had bonded with us, and he had. They promised they would relocate him to a less populated area and keep an eye on him. That was a sad day. It turns out that 80 percent of seal pups die, so we knew his odds, but we still had hope. George was a fighter. We watched as they glued a small tag onto his head reading "EO," which gave him an oddly realistic resemblance of a taxi! The wildlife volunteers promised to watch him and let us know how he was doing. They carried him away in a cooler, and even though it hurt to see him leave, we knew that he was in better hands.
The next day we called the local wildlife volunteers and asked how George ("EO") was doing. They told us that he was too social with humans, and kept trying to get onto the docks. Yeah, that was probably our fault! They decided to relocate him to a small island wildlife preserve with a lot of seals in the area, where they could better observe him. The time came to leave the island in the San Juan's, and we were all hopeful that our little George had survived the night, but we weren't sure.
A week after we returned home from the island, we called again, and were informed that "EO" was spotted in the water swimming with other seals and seal pups. George was alive. But now, I don't need to use "was" anymore. George is alive. And even though he was abandoned at birth, that didn't stop him from touching all of our hearts. George's story may be sad, but it is also magical. George is in the 20 percent of survivors. And George will always swim in my heart.