CAMDEN, Maine — Andre the Seal may have died in 1986, but the passing years have not made the memories of the famous seal fade away.
Just ask some of the ‘Seal Sisters,’ Susan Goodridge Crane, Carol Goodridge and Toni Goodridge, whose father, Harry Goodridge, adopted Andre as a tiny pup in 1961 and raised him at their Rockport home and in the nearby harbor. When Andre was older, he was free to leave the Goodridge home to live in the ocean as a wild seal, but for 25 years, he came back each summer. Andre performed tricks with Harry Goodridge that delighted thousands of locals and summer visitors over the years. The seal even played a pivotal role in Toni Goodridge’s wedding.
“I just take it as an experience we had,” Carol Goodridge said this week. “Certainly a unique and wonderful experience. Whether Andre was better off for having that life, I’ll never know. But he chose that life.”
Now, a new audience will be delighted by Andre’s camera-loving antics — and learn about the long bond between the seal and the Goodridge family. This week, the documentary “The Seal Who Came Home,” will debut on public television, the fourth in a series called “My Wild Affair.” The documentaries, produced by a British production company, aim to tell extraordinary stories of the bonds between people and their animal companions, and include the tale of an orangutan raised as a human child and a rhinoceros raised in suburbia.
Laura Werner of Blink Films UK wrote the BDN that when the series was in development several years ago, producers thought of Andre.
“It had been adapted into various drama documentaries and indeed a famous film — albeit featuring a sea lion,” she said. “Yet, even watching these other great celebrations of Andre’s life, we didn’t realize just how incredible the true story was until we contacted Toni Goodridge, and she began to tell us more, directly from the family’s perspective and their collective memory bank.”
A Canadian production team and director Kim Harris came to Maine last fall to shoot hours of interviews with Harry Goodridge’s surviving children, including daughter Paula. They also found harbor seals to film and used a GoPro camera underwater to try to see the world through Andre’s eyes.
“All the Seal Sisters, as we came to call them, and Toni’s husband Richard were a joy and gave us complete access to their hearts and minds,” Harris wrote in her filming crew notes. “We had an embarrassment of riches when it came to family home movies, footage from past TV shows and stills the family had amassed over a lifetime.”
The Goodridge sisters said that their father, a tree surgeon and professional diver, was an animal lover who thought nothing of feeding baby squirrels and robins at the family’s table or letting flying squirrels soar around the dining room. His wife, Thalice, was “very tolerant,” the sisters said, and didn’t mind that Harry Goodridge brought two baby seals home before he found Andre.
“We had a lot of pets, some of them unusual,” Carol Goodridge said. “To have a baby seal in your arms made quite an impression.”
Harry Goodridge found Andre near Robinson’s Rock, a place where seals would haul ashore at low tide to lie in the sun. Andre was swimming alone, and Goodridge figured he had been abandoned by his mother. They looked at each other, Goodridge told Lew Dietz in the book “A Seal Called Andre,” and something totally unexpected happened.
“Instead of submerging, the pup swam directly toward the boat. I swooped down with my net and swung the orphan aboard,” Goodridge said in the book. “Even as I changed a wild seal’s life by deliverance, so he changed mine. Certainly life has not been the same for either of us since.”
A smart seal
The sisters said that Andre was full of mischief and learned tricks like balancing a ball on his nose, or blowing a rude raspberry sound when Goodridge asked him what he thought of Flipper, the dolphin. He also liked to harass divers by pulling off their flippers or giving them hugs, they said. Sometimes Harry Goodridge would leave Andre snoozing in his Rockport pen and go to a diving job miles away, but soon after the diver got in the water, Andre would be there too.
“Andre was smart,” Sue Goodridge Crane said.
When Toni got married at 26 at Rockport’s Marine Park, Andre was taught a new trick — to go into the water and pick up the wedding ring from an undersea diver.
“He humped over to the best man, and gave him the ring,” Toni Goodridge said. “Then he got his fish.”
“I remember telling that story to someone,” Carol Goodridge said. “He said, ‘Weren’t you embarrassed?’ I thought, you don’t know my family.”
When Andre died in 1986, after a fierce beating from a younger seal, the Goodridge family was desolated. They had lost one of their own. Although the family did have many pets, wild as well as domesticated, there was something very special about Andre the Seal, the sisters said.
“What set him apart was the fact that he never went away,” Carol Goodridge said. “He kept coming back.”
“The Seal Who Came Home” will be broadcast at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 6, by Maine Public Broadcasting. The Camden Opera House will hold a free screening of the documentary the same day, with doors opening at 7 p.m, and with many of the Goodridge family members in the audience.