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Tucker slowly makes his way out onto the beach Friday. (Credit: Nicole Smith)

Students, parents and community members crowded behind two ropes in the sand at Bailie Beach Friday afternoon as Cutchogue East sixth graders Maddie Hansen, 11, and Abby Seifert, 12, released harbor seal Tucker back into the wild with members of the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation.

Observers cheered, clapped and snapped pictures as Tucker finally waded into the Long Island Sound after initially being hesitant to leave her cage.

“Oh my God, that was amazing!” Maddie said. “When I saw her going out into the water I was so proud of Abby and me because we did so much and it just paid off seeing her swim away.”

After a trip to Atlantis Marine World in Riverhead Maddie felt inspired after seeing the foundation help animals.

“I felt so sorry for them and I wanted to help raise money and I also wanted to help raise awareness for them to help save them,” she said.

The two Laurel girls approached principal Kathy Devine about putting together a fundraiser for the school to participate in. Overall, $385 was raised and 12 animals, including Tucker, were saved. The girls won an adoption challenge among Long Island schools, which is why they were chosen to rerelease the seal.

“It felt like we were doing the right thing helping out and it just felt good and right to do,” Abby said.

The next stop for Tucker: water! (Credit: Nicole Smith)
The next stop for Tucker: water! (Credit: Nicole Smith)

Tucker, named by the two girls after the Mattituck High School mascot, was found in East Quogue on April 12 entangled in gill netting. Eric Albert of East Quogue and his children Emma, 13, and Cameron, 10, were kayaking when they found her. They then called Eric’s wife, Beth, who called the Riverhead Foundation.

“It felt great,” said Cameron after he watched Tucker swim away. “It’s hard to explain. I felt happy that I was able to help her survive.”