Dexxy, a persistent gray seal pup who caused a stir when he was found wandering Cape Elizabeth streets on a snowy January night, returned to the chilly waters of Casco Bay on Thursday morning.

Marine Mammals of Maine released Dexxy and Sunshine, another gray seal pup that was stranded in Cape Elizabeth in January, at Head Beach in Phippsburg, where about 100 people had gathered to watch from a distance.

Pam Hill drove nearly three hours from Lunenburg, Massachusetts, to see her second seal release by the rescue group. The first was last September, when two harbor seals were returned to the sea at the same beach. She cried this time, too.

“It’s incredible to watch,” Hill said. “It’s bittersweet because it’s their goal to get them back where they belong, but the seals are like their kids.”

Both seals needed coaxing out of their crates. Dexxy, a male, was a bit more eager to dive into the waves, followed by Sunshine, a female.

“They both looked very happy to be back in the wild,” Hill said.


First spotted by a plow truck driver early on Jan. 23, Dexxy became a social media sensation when he toured town streets despite repeated efforts by Cape Elizabeth police and residents to return him to the sea.

Both seals were exhausted and malnourished when they were rescued. They spent the last several weeks fattening up at the marine rehabilitation facility in Brunswick, eating more than 6 pounds of fish daily. Sunshine grew from 35 to 55 pounds, and Dexxy grew from 40 to 64 pounds. An adult seal can weigh 800 to 1,000 pounds.

Sunshine, who was rescued from the front yard of a Cape Elizabeth home in January, is carried to the water at Head Beach in Phippsburg on Thursday to be released after being rehabilitated by Marine Mammals of Maine. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

“We’re thrilled that both are now healthy enough to return to the wild, where we hope they will thrive back in their own environment,” said Lynda Doughty, executive director of the nonprofit that responds to stranded marine mammals and sea turtles in southern and midcoast Maine.

Dexxy was named by his sponsors at Idexx and Sunshine was named by her sponsors at Darling’s Brunswick Ford. It costs $6,000 to $8,000 to rehab a seal pup.


Born between December and February, gray seals nurse onshore for about three weeks, Doughty said. Then, while other seals show the young how to find and eat fish, mother gray seals return to the sea to feed and leave their pups to fend for themselves, relying on instinct to kick in. As a result, it’s not unusual for young gray seals to have trouble adjusting to eating on their own and to come ashore during the weaning season, Doughty said.


While in rehab, Dexxy and Sunshine learned to eat fish and eventually graduated to a larger shared pool. In preparation for the release, Dexxy was outfitted with a satellite tracking tag.

“Dexxy is the perfect candidate to collect critical post-release data,” the group posted on Facebook. “With so many unknowns about this species, his tag will help us, and the marine science community, learn more about gray seal movements and habitat use.”

Information gathered by the tracking tag also will help rehab centers learn how to provide optimum care. While the organization would like to tag every seal, the equipment costs $5,000 to $7,000 and requires significant fundraising.

Children get their first look at two seal pups as they are released at Head Beach in Phippsburg on Thursday. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

The group releases seals at Head Beach because it’s private property where rescue workers can control public access when animals are being returned to the sea. It’s also a family-owned property where Doughty swam as a kid and developed her love of the ocean and marine life.

Doughty was happy to see many children at Thursday’s release, including more than a dozen home-schooled kids and their parents.

Monica Baribeau of Brunswick was there with her three children, ages 4 to 9. The release was their science lesson for the day – an “adventure” to see the seals they’ve been studying lately, learning about their food, habitat and how their bodies have adapted to living in the ocean.


“We do things like this quite often,” Baribeau said. “Anything we can to connect with what they’re learning. It all came alive for them today.”


Sunshine was collected from the front yard of a Cape Elizabeth home on Jan. 15.

A little over a week later, a public works employee spotted Dexxy traipsing through the Oakhurst Road neighborhood around 1:30 a.m. The plow driver notified police, triggering a game of catch-and-release along the town’s waterfront.

Dexxy, a gray seal pup, explores a Cape Elizabeth neighborhood during a storm on Jan. 23. Courtesy of Cape Elizabeth Police Department

The responding officer called the hotline for the rescue group, which had encountered Dexxy the day before. A trained volunteer had responded to a call about the same seal on Jan. 22, when he was lounging in a backyard on Oak Knoll Road. The volunteer saw no injuries or other causes for significant concern, so Dexxy was left undisturbed and he eventually returned to the ocean on his own.

But when Dexxy started wandering town roads, the rehab group advised the officer to capture the seal and bring him to a more protected area at Fort Williams Park, where he was released into the ocean. By 7 a.m., however, the seal was reported to be making his way down Shore Road, “possibly following the delicious scent of Cookie Jar donuts being baked,” police said in a Facebook post.


An officer found the seal crossing a lawn on Olde Fort Road. With help from a bystander, the animal was captured and returned to the ocean at Fort Williams. An hour later, he was out of the water again and exploring the park. An officer and several people captured the seal again and brought him back to the ocean.

At that point, the rescue group decided it would be best to bring the seal to its rehab center.

On Thursday, Dexxy and Sunshine took their time waddling to the water.

“Gray seals are a bit stubborn, so they hung around a little bit,” Doughty said. “But once they figured it out, they headed to the ocean and haven’t been seen since.”

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