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Seal pup Ziggy snoozes in the wee hours

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Very early Saturday morning on a public beach notorious for illegally off-leash dogs, Seal Sitters first responder protected our first seal pup visitor of 2016. The hotline had received reports the previous two days of a pup before sunrise at this location, but there was no pup to be found when responders arrived.

Convinced the pup was probably using the beach each night, our responder was out in the rain at 6:30am to see if the pup was there. Indeed, she found a quite small seal pup sound asleep at the water’s edge. The entrance to the small beach was immediately taped off to prevent access. Due to the early hour and inclement weather, the park was deserted. Over the next few hours, only a handful of diehard people exercising their dogs stopped to inquire about the seal, who moved up into the rocks with the incoming “king” tide. The pup, nicknamed Ziggy, returned to Elliott Bay about 9:30am as the tide swept in and over the log he was sleeping behind.

Ziggy is not one of the few pups we looked over last year and is estimated to be anywhere from 5-7 months old (pups are born in South Puget Sound from late June - September). Like most weaned pups, he seems to have some winter respiratory issues. Undisrupted rest is critical to Ziggy and other underweight weaners, who can’t afford to waste calories being chased back into the cold January waters. They need to rest and warm up.

A second seal pup seems to be sleeping on a different beach during the late night/early morning hours as well. This is a much safer scenario than coming ashore on crowded urban beaches during daylight hours.

If you see a pup onshore, please allow space and stay back - and call Seal Sitters’ dedicated hotline @ 206-905-SEAL (7325).

Warmest wishes for the holiday season

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’Tis the season to reflect on all of the good things in our lives. Seal Sitters is so grateful for our dedicated volunteers and supporters. We cannot provide safety for marine mammals without you!

We are also incredibly grateful for this opportunity to help wildlife; the joy of earning the trust of a wild being and making a difference in his/her survival is truly unsurpassed.

Seal Sitters wishes all of you a wonderful holiday season and coming new year.

Christmas seal Paz improves in rehab

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Seal Sitters received a “pupdate” this morning from PAWS Wildlife Center that seal pup Paz made it through the holiday weekend and is improving each day. The female pup is “finally gaining some weight and is on solid food.”

Paz, who was suffering from seizures, was rescued by Seal Sitters first responders from a West Seattle public beach early in the evening on the 22nd.

Examination at PAWS revealed that in addition to suffering from emaciation and hypoglycemia, Paz also had lung worms, but was not stable enough to be treated for the parasite load. Underweight seal pups with weakened immune systems often become infested with parasites during the cold, wet fall and winter months, which can result in serious respiratory issues and pneumonia. It is great news that Paz has the strength to start treatment to clear her lungs of dangerous parasites. She will continue to be closely monitored by PAWS’ rehab staff.

We are encouraged that Paz, a tiny pup measuring only 83cm in length, is on the mend enough to be enjoying swims in a big pool, complete with a green astroturf haulout (photo above). Her rehabilitation will be lengthy and Paz still faces many difficulties on an uphill road to recovery.

Seal pup Paz receives present of kindness and rescue

Early Tuesday evening on the public beach at Jack Block Park, a harbor seal pup was rescued by Seal Sitters first responders. The thin pup was having seizures. After a call to PAWS Wildlife Center to ensure that staff would be available after hours, the barely responsive pup was carried from the beach as a cold rain began to fall and driven to the treatment facility in Lynnwood.

It was our fear that the pup would need to be euthanized, but she showed signs of life when examined at PAWS. Late the following afternoon, we received the good news that the small female had managed to survive the night and was in “critical, but guarded” condition. She was emaciated, weighing only 12.8 kgs (close to birth weight) and quite hypoglycemic. Further tests were being run and we will keep you posted on her progress.

We can’t thank Raina, Ashley and other PAWS’ staff enough for staying late to accept the pup, nicknamed Paz (“peace” in Spanish), and provide care for her as she faces many challenges in the days ahead.

Seal Sitters hopes Paz will be a true Christmas miracle. There would be no greater gift this holiday season than her recovery and return back to the wild, a healthy and chubby seal.

December brings gift of seal pups

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Out on a pre-dawn search Monday for seal pup Dreidel (seen the day before at Jack Block Park with a serious, deep slash across the throat), Seal Sitters first responder instead found another pup at the base of beach steps on a small pocket beach.

Blocking off access to the beach, she set a tape perimeter, back from edge of the sea wall above the soundly snoozing pup. While it was difficult to get an identification photo of the pup, nestled against the cement, it was easy to see the smooth fur around the neck since he was sleeping belly up. This was a new pup.

Volunteers watched over him (or her) in a driving rain until shortly after 10am, when the pup swam off into Puget Sound.

Late that night, the hotline received a report of a pup surrounded by people taking photos on a different beach. First responders arrived minutes later, but the pup was gone. On the way home, they checked the pocket beach and, sure enough, the light-colored little pup that had been there earlier in the day was back again. In a downpour, once again a perimeter was set, with informational and “do not enter” signs to alert people of his presence, in hopes of keeping the pup relatively safe through the night.

At 6am, the silvery silhouette of the pup, illuminated by streetlight, could be seen at the base of the stairs. As skies brightened a bit despite the relentless rain, we were finally able to get an i.d. photo and the pup was nicknamed Mugsy (photo above). Volunteers chatted with enchanted passersby. Around 10am, Mugsy swam off for a late breakfast of squid, herring or other small fish.

Mugsy is the fourth positively identified pup we have had since November 29th.

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Below another sea wall late in the day on Wednesday, the 2nd, seal pup Corny slept among some large logs in an Elliott Bay cove. The next morning, he came ashore (photo left) at the very dangerous Don Armeni boat launch, scooting over logs and up into the asphalt lot, where garbage trucks, pickups with boat trailers and passenger cars drive through on a regular basis. Seal Sitters first responder and helpful Coast Guard “assistants” gently encouraged Corny to return to the safety of the water.

There still has been no sighting of the wounded pup. If you see a pup onshore, please call Seal Sitters’ hotline immediately @ 206-905-SEAL (7325) and keep people and dogs away.

It appears that after almost two months of virtually no responses, the seal pup drought has finally ended. Thanks to our first responders and volunteers out at all hours of the day and night, keeping pups safe!

Seal Sitters on high alert for seriously wounded seal pup

Just as the Seattle Seahawks game hit halftime yesterday, first responder Robin got a call from hotline operator Renee about a seal pup on the fenced beach at Jack Block Park. Expecting to just run down and get an i.d. photo since that beach is inaccessible to the public (and, therefore, off leash dogs as well), she was saddened to see a deep, slicing wound on the pup’s neck.

The fact that the pup was quite alert and positioned close to the water’s edge made the likelihood of a successful rescue very dubious. More likely than not, instead of being able to capture the pup, responders would have scared him into the water. Since he/she desperately need rest and the beach was secure from human harassment, we decided to let him rest in hopes for a chance of rescue today. The pup slept pretty soundly the rest of the afternoon and responders made arrangements with PAWS Wildlife Center, recently on overload with oiled geese, to ensure they had space to treat the pup.

We ask that the public call Seal Sitters’ hotline @ 206-905-SEAL (7325) immediately upon seeing a seal pup onshore. Only members of NOAA’s Marine Mammal Stranding Network have the authority to handle marine mammals. Please stay far back and keep dogs leashed. It is urgent that we get the pup medical attention from this human-caused injury. Thanks to Tracy and the West Seattle Blog for helping us spread the word for people to be on the lookout.

The pup was named Dreidel by Seal Sitters volunteer Noelle and friend Karen out for a stroll at the waterfront park. The name is in honor of the first day of Hanukkah. This is the third seal pup this week that Seal Sitters has responded to along the shores of Elliott Bay.

Marine debris and toxic trash can cause entanglement, serious injury and death to marine marine mammals and other sea life. Read more on Seal Sitters’ website in our newly expanded marine debris section.

Finally! A pup comes ashore in West Seattle

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Seal Sitters first responder was shocked to see an incoming call from hotline operator Julia this morning. Could we actually have a pup on shore after such a long drought in responses? Yes, indeed. Someone reported a seal on the public access beach at Jack Block Park.

Our responder arrived minutes after the phone call and found the snoozing pup about 6 feet above the tide line.

Thankfully, no one was on the beach - or seemingly even in the park on this chilly and foggy day. A quick perimeter was set with sandwich boards and yellow tape on the sidewalk just above the resting pup. The small beach entrance was taped off as well (thanks to the quick-thinking soul who had set a construction barricade there).

Soon afterwards, the pup started to stir and make the slow trek to Elliott Bay. After slipping into the gray, still waters, the pup was seen offshore for a short time, but then disappeared. After the materials had been removed from the area, our responder talked with 12-year-old Sophia about the pup she had just missed seeing. After looking at photos, she christened him/her Clover.

Clover was on the thin side, but seemed reasonably healthy for a weaner headed into winter. We’ll be on the lookout for Clover. If you see a pup onshore, make sure to give the hotline a call at 206-905-SEAL (7325).

This past week other seals have been seen resting on offshore platforms, so we do seem to have seals in the area. Perhpas they are just finding safer places to haul out this season.

Mystery season continues: trick or treat for harbor seal pups?

September and October, the usual months in South Puget Sound when newly weaned harbor seal pups strike out on their own, have proven to be spooky for a number of marine mammal stranding networks. Responses to weaned pups are way down - and in typically seal-busy areas like West Seattle, First Responders have been essentially idle. However, Seal Sitters volunteers faithfully continue to enter time on our online calendar and wonder when their phone will ring, hoping to help protect a seal pup.

Seal Sitters’ hotline (206-905-SEAL) has been eerily silent, with phone reports down drastically. Last October, hotline operators fielded 54 calls, 24 of which were out-of-area calls. Seal Sitters routinely receives calls from other regions of Puget Sound which we forward on to the appropriate network. In October of 2015, we have handled only 7 calls, including 3 out-of-area.

In September and October of 2014, Seal Sitters responded to 60 pinnipeds - seals and sea lions, but by far the vast majority were seal pups. This year for the two month period, we have a combined total of only 14, mostly to dead newborn animals early in the season. The average September responses for the previous 4 years is 36. The average for October for the previous 4 years is 42. These numbers include pinnipeds, dead or alive.

Scratching our heads over the lack of pups resting on shore or even seen swimming around the area, Seal Sitters’ Lead Investigator reached out to other stranding networks, curious if they were experiencing a similarly slow season. Our informal poll has indicated that response numbers are down region-wide and other network coordinators are perplexed as well. Port Townsend, Edmonds and Snohomish/King Counties have also had very few responses this year (pupping season varies across Puget Sound - view a pupping season map here).

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So, what does this all mean? According to our consulting marine mammal biologist, it does not necessarily indicate dire straits for seal pups. Area rookeries had normal birth numbers and there was no dramatic increase in newborn mortality. The one exception has been an unusual and extensive coyote predation of seal pups at a historic South Puget Sound island haulout (shown at right, a well-fed coyote waits patiently for his next meal).

Perhaps pups are healthy enough this season that they don’t have to come ashore on busy beaches. Instead, they have the strength to swim on and find quieter locations to rest. The good news is we are not having high numbers of emaciated pups on shore in West Seattle like the past few seasons.

On the flip side, the mammal-eating transient orcas have been visiting Puget Sound more frequently this year. Some theorize that they could have had some impact on pup populations. Weaker pups are easy prey for killer whales.

Is climate change affecting marine life and foraging habits? Undoubtedly. Are forage fish numbers dwindling? Certainly. Watch a video here about the importance of forage fish to marine mammals, salmon and other species. Please check back as we continue our inquiry with marine mammal biologists and scientists to further investigate possible root causes of such a haunting season.

Seal pup Little Dipper returned to the wilds of Puget Sound

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Seal Sitters is thrilled to report that harbor seal pup Little Dipper, rescued by authorized First Responders from a Lincoln Park beach in late June, has been released back home to Puget Sound. The newborn, full-term harbor seal pup had been abandoned by his mom - most likely due to human activity and the presence of 4 off-leash dogs on the beach in the park.

Little Dipper’s stint of rehabilitation at PAWS Wildlife Center (intake exam photo at left) was a bit longer than a typical two-month duration because he was slow to pack on weight. A newborn seal pup in rehab must be taught to eat whole fish since they are not able to learn from other seals in the wild. When finally released on October 9th, he weighed over 30 kgs (66+ lbs) - a true blubberball! The pup weighed only about 18 lbs when taken in for stabilization and treatment.

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Little Dipper, now sporting a brightly-colored rehab tag on his rear flipper, still faces big challenges in the wild. The 50% chance odds of survival his first year are not statistically reduced. However, thanks to a daily high-caloric intake, he has a thick layer of blubber fat to keep him warm in the cold waters and to provide energy to sustain him while learning to hunt on his own.

Little Dipper was released, along with another rehabilitated seal pup, near a harbor seal haulout. The photo at right shows Little Dipper emerging from his kennel on the boat transom, seconds before plunging into the water and swimming off. We so hope that these two young pups navigate the waters successfully and thrive together in the vast expanse of Puget Sound - and find safety when resting onshore.

Seal Sitters MMSN extends heartfelt thanks to the dedicated staff at PAWS for giving Little Dipper a second chance at life and generously providing photos to share with volunteers and the public.

If you see a seal pup (or any marine mammal) with a tag and are able to get the number thru binoculars or with a telephoto lens at a distance, please forward the location information and photos to Seal Sitters.

Two seal pups in as many days for Seal Sitters

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On Tuesday, Seal Sitters received a call that a harbor seal pup was at the Don Armeni public boat launch, surrounded by people - illegally touching and petting him. The pup managed to escape back into Elliott Bay before our responder arrived and the crowd had dispersed.

The following afternoon, a tiny seal pup came ashore at that same dangerous location, busy with frequent boat and trailer traffic - in addition to trucks rumbling through the parking lot and busses unloading tourists to take photos of the Seattle skyline. We believe he is probably the same pup that had been harassed the day before. Pups are attracted to this location because of the small fish fry that thrive underneath docks and piers - and because fishermen often dump their bait after a long day of fishing. A pup trying to rest on any public launch is extremely vulnerable to being run over and killed, serious injury from off-leash dogs and harassment from people. All marine mammals are protected from harassment by the Marine Mammal Protection Act and Washington State Law.

The pup, nicknamed Pup Francis (shown above snoozing in the sun near the tide line), rested under the protection of Seal Sitters volunteers and returned to the water after several hours, only to come ashore at the ramp again later in the day for a short time. Volunteers in shifts educated the public and, thankfully, boaters were very supportive of our attempts to give him a bit of sanctuary onshore in a difficult situation. One boater even remarked that “he needs the ramp more than we do” and was more than happy to use an alternative ramp for launching.

Like most recently weaned seal pups, Pup Francis was a bit thinner than we like to see. We hope he packs on some blubber for the upcoming cold months and finds a safer haulout.

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Yesterday afternoon, Seal Sitters responded to another pup (shown at left) resting against a moss-covered rock on a very small piece of pebbled Elliott Bay beach. New volunteer Jenny was thrilled to finally be given the opportunity to protect a seal pup, after a very slow start to our West Seattle pupping season. She nicknamed the spotted and alert pup Moss.

Volunteers taped off a small area of the sidewalk on the sea wall above the pup, still allowing plenty of room for passersby and cyclists. Distributing stickers to kids and informational handouts, they spoke with quite a few people about the need for seal pups to rest and warm up. A curious seagull pecked at Moss, wondering if the sleeping pup was alive - and barely escaped the snapping jaws of the startled pup.

The incoming tide was soon lapping at his (or her) rear flippers. Not long after, a big swell rushed over Moss who then swam off into the gray waters. Volunteers waited to make sure he didn’t appear further down the beach and then removed all materials from the site.

Please call Seal Sitters’ hotline @ 206-905-SEAL (7325) if you see a seal (or sea lion) onshore. Keep people and dogs well away until our first responder can arrive on the scene. Please note that Seal Sitters responds to reports of all marine mammals, dead or alive.

Strange bedfellows share the shore

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Every fall, salmon migrating through the waters of Puget Sound lure anglers of all ages and skills to the beaches of Lincoln Park. Silhouetted against both the dawn and evening light, fishermen can be seen lined up along the shoreline trying to land a fat Pink or Coho.

Somewhat surprisingly, this past week a sleek, silvery harbor seal pup has been occasionally wriggling onto the pebbled beach to rest among the fishermen. This little pup isn’t interested in big salmon. Instead, he forages on the many species of tiny fish found among the intertidal eelgrass and seasonal kelp beds, a fertile marine habitat. For the most part, the fishermen have accommodated his presence and granted him space. The pup catches some zzzz’s while the anglers cast their lines, hoping to catch some dinner.

Seal Sitters had received numerous reports of a seal pup coming and going from Lincoln Park. One evening, just before darkness fell, our First Responder finally got a chance to observe the pup, get some photos and talk with fishermen. Nicknamed Minnow, the pup was alert and seems relatively healthy.

While we may cringe at the thought of the pup navigating through lures and lines - entanglement and injury is always a concern - thus far the mantra to Share the Shore seems to be working out.

We thank the fishermen who have been moving to give Minnow a wide berth and have reeled in their gear when he approaches the beach. Please remember to remove all derelict gear and line from the area. Not only is it a danger to marine life and shorebirds, but also to people - and dogs illegally roaming the beach.
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