As transformations go, this one was significant. I had first seen her in August. At that time she was a 17-pound, emaciated pup that was succumbing to lung parasite-induced pneumonia. Now, just 13 weeks later, there was fifty more pounds of Harbor Seal looking out at me from the transport carrier than had arrived at PAWS Wildlife Center. As the boat we were in rocked gently on the waves, she pressed against the door to sniff the salt air.
Arriving at the release site near the mouth of the Snohomish River, we cut the engines and moved the release carrier into position. When the door was opened, the seal oozed her well-fattened body out onto the swimming platform below.
Now right at the water’s edge, she paused to assess her surroundings. She looked out over the open water, and occasionally glanced back in our direction as if she needed some definitive sign from us that this was really happening.
We expected no thanks, but it was nonetheless given. It didn't come in the form of an excited seal bark or the wave of a flipper. No, the "thank you" was far more meaningful than that. It came from seeing this fat, healthy seal disappear beneath the waves to embrace the life she was born to live. Her acceptance of that gift was all the thanks we required.