The Return of Andre the Seal, with Harry the Harbormaster -
Thursday, July 31, 2014 7:05 AM
"The Seal Who Came Home," an Animal Planet documentary on Andre the Seal and Harry Goodridge, the Rockport harbormaster who caught the baby seal and raised him, will air on public television on August 6.
Andre, a wild harbor seal, with Harry Goodridge, his trainer, entertained Rockport audiences for three decades. (Photo by Lew Dietz )
Andre the Seal TV Documentary to Air August 6 on PBS, with a Free Screening at the Camden Opera House —
"The Seal Who Came Home," a one-hour documentary on Andre, Rockport's famous seal, is the final episode in a four-part series called "My Wild Affair." The close relationship between wild animals and their surrogate human parents is the focus of the series. "The Seal Who Came Home" will air on Wednesday, August 6, at 8 p.m. on PBS stations. A free screening will also be held at the Camden Opera House, with seating available on a first-come basis. For more information, contact www.camdenoperahouse.com.
A reissued edition of the 1975 book "A Seal Called Andre," by Goodridge and Lew Dietz, with a new afterword by Goodridge's four daughters, will be released by Down East Books in September.
Goodridge, a Rockport resident who had raised wild squirrels, crows, and other wild animals, decided he wanted a seal pup as a companion on his scuba diving salvage work in the late '50s.
The bounty on killing harbor seals had ended in Maine in 1945, but when Goodridge went out to find a baby seal to raise in 1959, many fishermen still thought of harbor seals as no better than rats, going after lobster bait and competing for fish. The Marine Mammal Protection Act, which made it illegal to handle a marine mammal, much less shoot it or keep it, would not be passed until 1972.
The first seal Goodridge captured died during weaning. The second, Basil, was eaten by a great white shark at the mouth of Rockport Harbor when Goodridge was throwing the young seal some fish.
"It was a different time, then," said Toni Goodridge, the youngest of the four Goodridge daughters, who was a little girl when her father decided to get a baby seal.
"It's not natural to have wild creatures living with us," said Goodridge. "But I would have hated to have missed out on it, because of what I learned."
"I'm glad for those laws, now," said Susan Goodridge Crane, the eldest of the Goodridge daughters. Crane was in her late teens when her father picked up Andre from the rocks of Penobscot Bay in 1961.
Seal pups are often left alone on the rocks while their mothers go fishing, often for as long as a day. Rarely are they actually abandoned.
Raised on a winning combination of butter, cream, baby formula and fish oil, Andre spent his days in the harbor and his early nights up at the Goodridges' house a block away, where Harry would carry him like a loaf of bread under his arm. In the morning, Andre would make his own way clumsily down the meadow to the harbor.
Occasionally, up at the Winter Street house, Andre would lumber into the living room to watch television.
But water was Andre's element. Andre and Harry put on nightly summer shows at Rockport Harbor, with Andre jumping through hoops made of old tires, grabbing Harry's hanky to blow his nose, and putting a flipper over his eyes in mock shame when Harry scolded him.
Harry passed the bucket to collect spare change. It was his way of keeping Andre in fish.
"The show down at the harbor was a makeshift kind of thing. It was simple; sort of a Rube Goldberg affair," said Crane.
"And people loved it."
Andre became incredibly famous, with newspapers from Connecticut to Maine keeping up with him, especially when he started being flown down to the New England Aquarium in Boston for the winter and, later, the Mystic Aquarium.
In 1979, Andre received the Townsperson of the Year Award, presented at the Whitehall Inn in Camden. In 1982, Governor Joe Brennan had to publicly apologize to Andre and feed him a fish at Rockport Harbor to calm the media frenzy that followed the governor's statement that newspapers spent too much time covering the seal and not enough time covering the serious issues of the day.
"My dad thought that's why Brennan got re-elected," said Toni Goodridge.
Once, Andre gave Paula Goodridge Armentrout, one of the other daughters, a playful nip because he didn't like that she had curlers in her hair. Another time, he jumped up and nipped a button off Toni's new coat and tossed it in the harbor.
"He had a sense of humor, but we always knew he was a wild animal," said Crane.
After a scolding from Harry, the next day Andre retrieved the button and dropped it at Harry's feet.It wasn't long before the small seal pup grew so large it took four men to carry his crate when Andre had public appearances. By then, Andre was far from the romantic wide-eyed baby seal. Goodridge's decision to raise a seal pup had turned into a lifetime commitment that lasted 25 years and a family responsibility when the full-grown seal became aggressive during molting and mating season.
"He seemed half human," said Crane. " He was a powerful, unpredictable wild animal, too. He could be very aggressive; not with my father, but with other men."
Andre was known to sleep in skiffs or jump in rowboats to demand bait from fishermen rowing out to their lobster boats.
In 1977, the New England Aquarium sent Smoke, a female harbor seal, to join Andre in his pen at Rockport Harbor with the hope they might produce offspring.
In the afterword of the reissue of the book "A Seal Called Andre," which summarizes the last decade of Andre's life after the initial book was published, the Goodridge daughters write:
The stay was intended to be brief, but was extended to October as the two seals developed an obvious fondness for one another. Dad taught Smoke a few tricks, which enhanced the daily (public) show, but the romance failed to produce more than mutual adoration. After Smoke was returned to Boston, a lonely Andre paced back and forth underwater for days.
Andre and Smoke failed to produce offspring, but their interaction may have contributed to what appeared to the Goodridge daughters to be a cross-species territorial dispute that same year.
In 1977, Andre jumped a man from Albion who was rowing a 12-foot skiff in Rockport Harbor, with his wife as a passenger. According to newspaper reports, the 16-year-old seal clambered into the boat, almost capsizing it, and bit the man on the chest, tried to knock him overboard, then bit him on the arm. The man succeeded in fending him off. The seal continued to grab the oars as the couple aimed for shore.
Many came to Andre's defense, saying he must have been provoked. That apparently wasn't the case, nor was it the first time Andre had been aggressive. Toni Goodridge commended the Rockport lobstermen for not losing patience with the trained seal during fishing season, when they would often come down to the harbor at dawn to find a grumpy seal sleeping in their skiffs or demanding lobster bait.
After the 1977 incident, Andre was kept penned in the harbor at night. His winter flights to the New England Aquarium and then the Mystic Aquarium followed. Andre always returned to Rockport on his own in the spring with great media fanfare. Once back in Rockport, he often would leave the harbor for days, coming and going as he pleased.
Harry Goodridge gave Andre every opportunity to return to the wild, according to his daughters, but Andre always, in the end, returned to Harry, with whom he had the strongest bond.
In 1980, Andre was the ring-bearer in Toni Goodridge's wedding to Richard Lermond. Andre jumped into the harbor, retrieved a pouch with the rings from a scuba diver who was underwater and gave them to the best man up on the dock, clapping with his flippers after the vows, then receiving his fish reward from Harry.
In 1986, Andre got into what turned out to be a fatal fight with a young male harbor seal. Toni Goodridge believes Andre lost the Rockport territory he had defended for so long. By then he was an old seal, and blind. Andre was found dead near the Samoset a few days later.
"The Seal Who Came Home," an Animal Planet documentary on Andre, Harry Goodridge and his four daughters, is scheduled to be aired on PBS on Wednesday, August 6, at 8 p.m. The 50-minute film, which includes movie footage, photographs, and interviews with people close to Andre throughout his life, includes highlights of Andre's life.
"The book really tells the story," said Toni Goodridge, who worked with her sister Carol Goodridge on an afterword to the 1975 edition that covers the final decade of the relationship between their father and Andre.
"A Seal Called Andre" will be available from Down East Books in September.