Dell Cullum, a wildlife photographer who said he had thought he had seen it all, got several images of a body-surfing raccoon last week in the ocean off Amagansett.
While it is impossible to know whether the raccoon meant to go for a swim in the frigid water or if it had been accidentally swept up while taking a walk along the shore, one thing is for certain: It got some much needed help. Mr. Cullum, who first captured the spectacle with his camera, ended up helping the raccoon from the surf off Atlantic Avenue just after sunrise on April 10.
"First, I thought it was a scoter or sheldrake but as it neared I saw it had no resemblance to waterfowl at all. A seal maybe, but way too small. It finally got close enough where I was able to tell it was a fur-bearing critter, most likely a muskrat," Mr. Cullum wrote on his blog. "I switched my camera lens from wide angle to telephoto, put it to my eye and was surprised to see it was a raccoon. I immediately began shooting frames of the masked marauder swimming parallel to the shoreline. Every now and then it would turn in and ride a wave closer to shore like it was quite familiar with the ocean and the waves. Sadly, that wasn't the case at all."
The raccoon was fighting to keep above water, Mr. Cullum said, and it was overcome by a large wave and disappeared in the surf. "I was heartbroken realizing what was going on. A few seconds later, his head popped up, and he began fighting the current trying to get back to shore."
Mr. Cullum took off his shoes and socks, rolled up his pant legs, and with a golf ball scoop he keeps in his truck, rushed into the water to help. Extending the device about 20 feet, he reached over the water. On his first try, he dropped the scoop. The raccoon, however, grabbed onto its net, and Mr. Cullum dragged the soaked creature to the water's edge.
A wave knocked the raccoon off his feet, but it quickly composed himself — and "coughed up a lung of saltwater" in the process, Mr. Cullum said. "A few shakes and twists to shed a soaking coat, a stumble or two to get the gait and off he went . . . not up into the dunes, but along the shoreline. This one is bound to keep me confused and in wonderment."
Larry Penny, who writes a nature column for The East Hampton Star and was director of the Natural Resources Department for the Town of East Hampton, said he had never heard such a story before. "A lot of different animals go into the water to de-lice themselves or de-flea themselves," Mr. Penny said, however. "The saltwater is a better elixir than fresh water."