National Geographic : 1968 Nov
learned, however, that he does not like to be petted by strangers. He enforces this hands off policy with a warning growl or snap. Hurricanes, like humans, can prove haz ardous to little seals. When storm warnings went up in September a year ago, Shag was already at sea. The wind-lashed Atlantic turned white, and still we scanned it in vain for a familiar black dot. Then came the grim news that Shag was waging a desperate battle to come ashore half a mile up the beach; a surf-battered sea wall blocked his way. When I arrived, the odds seemed hopeless, but I had to try to save him. Tying a rope around my waist and trusting my life to will ing hands that held the other end, I dropped over the wall into murderous seas. I had al most coaxed Shag within reach when a mon ster wave hit us both, crashing me against the concrete and sending our terrified seal out into open ocean. I did not see how he could survive such punishment. Miraculously he did survive-by moving up to Margate City, the next town north, and beaching where no sea walls hampered him. Now it was fall, and the annual run of big striped bass brought hundreds of surf casters to our shore. Shag delighted in trailing, not touching, their colorful lures. This playful habit frustrated many a dawn fisherman who, thinking a real whopper was lunging after his line, reeled in to find a fishless hook in his hand and a friendly seal at his feet. Snappishness Suggests an Inner Struggle As autumn waned, our seal, like the bass, began searching farther afield for the great schools of mullet that frequent our coast. By early winter, he was treating us like strangers, growling and snapping at our touch. There seemed a look of antagonism in his normally kind, unblinking eyes. Was Shag torn be tween two worlds-one of safe domesticity, the other wild, uncertain, but truly his? We began to believe the experts who had said the venture would end in failure. Days away stretched into a week, then more. Yet each time we gave Shag up for lost, he re turned-sometimes tunneling with great ef fort through deep snowdrifts to reach his cel lar hideaway. Still he wanted no part of us. One day in late January, when ice still frosted the jetty, I saw Shag swimming near the shore. I had no hope he would be friendly 735 BYNATIONALGEOGRAPHIC .SISSON (C) N.G.S.