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Struggling gray whale being monitored in Puget Sound

Early this morning, Seal Sitters’ first responders followed up on a report by a pilot of a gray whale languishing in the waters south of Alki Point.

After repeated scans of the surface of Puget Sound’s Central Basin from the Alki Lighthouse to Lincoln Park, the whale was sighted a couple of hundred yards off of Beach Drive - the mottled gray hump of the whale’s back barely visible in the mottled gray waters.

Last night, there was an unconfirmed report of what was believed to be a gray whale, slowly drifting south from Shilshole near Seattle’s Golden Gardens park. Members of the Marine Mammal Stranding Network were put on alert and kept in close contact regarding the animal’s location.

Throughout the morning, Seal Sitters’ volunteers kept a wary eye on the lethargic gray, who was gradually straying out into the main channel shipping lane and at risk for ship strike. Kristin Wilkinson, NOAA’s regional stranding co-coordinator for the West Coast MMSN, was alerted and sent out a notice to the Coast Guard, who broadcast that mariners should avoid the area and keep a distance of 100 yards at all times. Read more about ship strike dangers on our website. Identification photos were sent to Cascadia Research to see if the whale has been in Washington waters before.

The whale was last sighted on the opposite side of the channel and was being monitored offshore by a State Parks ranger.

Each year, gray whales make the long, strenuous migration from Mexico’s Baja California lagoons, headed for summer feeding grounds in Alaska. Along the way, a number of those grays venture into the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the inland waters of Puget Sound. Some, like the whale known as Patch, return annually to forage on the nutrient-rich beds around Whidbey, Camano and Hat islands.

Others are not strong enough to make the 10,000 mile-long journey and perish in our waters. The outcome for this latest gray whale does not look encouraging.

Thanks to our Seal Sitters volunteers who peered through binoculars for hours, keeping tabs on the whale’s behavior and bearings to help keep the animal safe from danger.

All sightings of whales and other cetaceans should be reported as soon as possible to Orca Network via email. Gray whales have mottled gray skin with a distinctive series of knuckles along the back. Humpbacks and other whales have dorsal fins.

If you see a whale entangled or stranded onshore - please call the NOAA West Coast MMSN Hotline immediately at 866-767-6114, giving location and species information. Gray whales do strand somewhat frequently in our waters.

If a whale is along the shoreline of West Seattle, please call the Seal Sitters MMSN hotline at 206-905-SEAL (7325) and then contact Orca Network. This will help enable our first responders to obtain an i.d. photo if at all possible.

Seal pup Doodle visits not once, but three times today

A harbor seal pup near Brace Point kept Seal Sitters’ first responder on her toes this afternoon. The hotline received a call about a pup just barely north of the Point. However, the beach was empty when she arrived.

Thru binoculars, the long stretch of shoreline of Fauntleroy Cove, historically important to Native Americans and one-time site of an ancient burial ground, was carefully scanned. There was no sign of anything between the tideline and woody debris high up near the houses.

Resigned that the pup must have been scared into the water, the responder noticed a furry little shape - nestled in the shadow against a wooden raft, half in the water at such a low tide, far down the beach. Sure enough, there was the pup. And sure enough, there were off leash dogs headed his way. The responder established a wide perimeter, stretching yellow tape between stakes and driftwood. As the tide rose, the alert pup moved a few feet onshore. After resting about an hour, the approximately 7-9 month old pup swam off and disappeared into the blue waters.

The stranding materials were removed from the area after ensuring the pup didn’t have plans to return. The First Responder made the long trek back down the beach, south and around the Point, headed to her car and, theoretically, home. Just as she reached the car, neighbors said a pup crawled ashore about 50 yards away. Once again, tape was stretched and neighbors enthusiastically welcomed our presence and offered assistance. A call was placed to volunteer coordinator Arden and soon volunteer Sarah eagerly showed up to lend a hand.

The pup, nicknamed Doodle, rested somewhat nervously until about 4pm and, once again, swam off.

Huge thanks to Sarah, who has faithfully used Seal Sitters’ online “Doodle” volunteer calendar and entered available times every week for many, many months. Because our pupping season had been so strangely quiet and virtually no weaned pups using the shore over the winter, she had never had the opportunity to protect a pup - until today.

Please call Seal Sitters’ hotline at 206-905-SEAL (7325) if you see a seal onshore. Because of the high number of off leash dogs along Lincoln Park, Fauntleroy Cove and beaches south, it is especially important to have volunteers on-site so seal pups can rest and warm up, free from harassment and harm.

Gray whales return to Puget Sound

The surprise discovery of a gray whale swimming inside Seattle’s Ballard Locks this week startled onlookers and created a media buzz. The thin whale has been seen around the locks since March 21st.

All sightings of whales and other cetaceans should be reported as soon as possible to Orca Network via email. The photo at left shows the typically mottled skin of a gray whale with a distinctive series of knuckles along the back. Humpbacks and other whales have dorsal fins.

If you see the gray whale back in the Locks - or any whale entangled or stranded onshore - please call the NOAA West Coast MMSN Hotline immediately at 866-767-6114, giving location and species information. Gray whales do strand somewhat frequently in our waters.

If a whale is along the shoreline of West Seattle, please call the Seal Sitters MMSN hotline at 206-905-SEAL (7325) and then contact Orca Network. This will help enable our first responders to obtain an i.d. photo if at all possible.

Spring marks the return of gray whales to Puget Sound. Before continuing their 10,000 mile-long migration from the sheltered breeding grounds of Mexico’s Baja California lagoons to their summer feeding grounds in Alaska, these gentle giants detour into our inland waters to forage.

Grays are baleen whales, who forage by scooping up and straining huge quantities of ocean bottom sediment (which contains invertebrates) through their comb-like filters. Along the shores of Whidbey, Hat and Camano islands are beds of ghost shrimp, a favorite food. At low tide, you can often see hollowed out areas of beach where the whales have been feeding. Sadly, a whale can also scoop up human trash that settles on the sandy bottom.

Each year, a number of gray whales take up temporary residency in north Puget Sound, sometimes wandering down into central and south Puget Sound. This spring offers a wonderful opportunity to get out on whale watch boat and observe them from a safe distance. It is imperative that their foraging behavior not be disrupted, so they have the energy to continue their monumental journey north. All marine mammals are protected by Federal law from harassment, the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

UPDATE 4/20/16
A dead gray whale was sighted on the 18th, floating off the waters of Vashon Island. Today, a team from Cascadia Research Collective necropsied the whale, a young male, who has been confirmed as the same gray seen in the Ballard Locks. Read Cascadia’s report here.

Chubby rehabbed pup Paz returns home to Puget Sound

Harbor seal pup Paz, rescued by Seal Sitters from a public West Seattle beach shortly before Christmas, was returned to the vast expanse of Puget Sound yesterday, following a lengthy rehab at PAWS Wildlife Center. At right, the now-tubby pup pauses on the edge of a Coast Guard boat, shortly before disappearing in the water - back home at last.

In December, the female pup was suffering from seizures on a cold and wet afternoon at Jack Block Park, notorious for illegally off-leash dogs. Seal Sitters first responders, authorized members of NOAA’s West Coast Marine Mammal Stranding Network, transported the hypoglycemic and largely unresponsive pup for evaluation at the Lynnwood facility, fearing she would require euthanasia. PAWS rehabbers were able to stabilize and hydrate her and Paz began a long recovery after a tenuous couple of weeks.

Severely emaciated and weighing only 12.8 kgs when rescued, the estimated 7-9 month-old pup was a true “blubberball” at her release on Monday, tilting the scale at 35 kgs (75 lbs). Pups are weaned around 4 weeks of age and are then entirely on their own, often struggling to survive wet fall and winter months. Click here to view a map of harbor seal pupping season in Washington.

It should be noted that only members of NOAA’s Marine Mammal Stranding Network - or their authorized agents - can legally handle and transport marine mammals. It is a violation of Federal Law to touch, feed, move or harass marine mammals. If you see a seal pup on the beach, please contact your local stranding network (network map here).

Thanks to PAWS dedicated staff for nursing the pup back to health. Huge thanks as well to the US Coast Guard Auxiliary boat crew that released Paz back where she belongs, the culmination of a true team effort (view a video of the release on USCG Facebook page).

Sad end for harbor seal pup rescued from beach

Yesterday afternoon at West Seattle’s Duwamish Head, Seal Sitters’ first responders rescued a moribund seal pup from the surf. Sadly, the young male died shortly after transport to PAWS Wildlife Center in Lynnwood.

After observing the pup’s non-responsive behavior, first responders Robin and Lynn scaled the slippery boulders below the sea wall to prevent him from drowning in front of onlookers. The pup was gently carried away from the water’s edge. A call was placed to the rehab facility to make sure that the pup could be received for evaluation and humane euthanasia if necessary. Volunteers Buzz and Gretchen made the long drive in rush hour to deliver the pup to PAWS.

A review of id photos of pups from the 2015 season and responses early this year revealed that this pup was not known to Seal Sitters.

WDFW Marine Mammal Investigations Unit, a fellow member of NOAA’s West Coast Marine Mammal Stranding Network, will perform a necropsy to determine cause of death. The pup would have been born in Puget Sound last year. Harbor seal pups are weaned and on their own after nursing 4-6 weeks.

Thanks to a recent fundraising campaign, Seal Sitters volunteers and supporters have raised money to pay for blood and tissue tests to help offset Federal cutbacks in funding for research. These tests provide valuable data and insight into the mortality of harbor seal populations and help identify disease trends in marine mammals. If you would like to make a donation to help fund this research, please click here.

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

Seal pup snoozes on a sunny day in the park

After a spell of inactivity for marine mammal response in West Seattle, a seal pup was reported this morning just south of the Fauntleroy Ferry dock. The reporting party said the pup was up near the driftwood high on the beach, but was startled by someone walking by and had moved closer to the water. First responder Lynn found the pup right at the small public access entryway to the largely private beach. Around 9:30am, the alert pup flop-hopped into the water.

A concerned neighbor asked if he could make signs to warn people, especially those with dogs, that a seal had been using the beach to rest. He was encouraged to spread the word in the neighborhood.

A second call into the hotline around noon was of the same pup at the south end of Lincoln Park’s Colman Pool, a highly trafficked pedestrian area. The pup was snoozing soundly at the water’s edge, but as the tide rose over the next few hours, he/she kept scooting higher on the beach.

On this nice day, quite a few people stopped to ask questions of volunteers Buzz, David, Jonel and Dana who came down to help out. The afternoon sunshine coated everything with a golden haze, so the pup was named Dusty. Dusty was eventually engulfed by waves and swam off shortly after 3pm.

Thanks to everyone who gave Dusty some “chill” time on shore.

Seal pups in two locations keep responders on the run

Around 1:30 this afternoon, hotline operator Larry called with a report of a seal pup just south of Lincoln Park’s Colman Pool. First responders David and Eilene arrived on the scene and noticed the pup about half way down to the water’s edge. An adult accompanying a small group of kindergarteners helped her set a partial yellow tape perimeter along the walkway.

The tide was low, however, and the pup made a quick move toward the safety of Puget Sound. After lingering briefly in the water which lapped the shore, he swam off and headed north. The responders checked both north and south of the pool for about 30 minutes, but saw no further sign of the pup. They spoke with people about seal pup health and behavior and distributed educational materials before leaving the park. This pup seemed relatively healthy in appearance and body weight.

A second pup was reported at 5pm along the Alki Promenade beach stairs, but the pup was gone when volunteers arrived. It was the same location where a pup had been seen resting on shore on January 20th.

Seal pup Ziggy snoozes in the wee hours

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

’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

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.
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