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Harbor seal pupping season well underway in Washington

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Now that Pacific Northwest residents are finally getting hot summer weather, many will be heading for beaches to enjoy some sun and vacation time. This is a reminder that seal pupping season is currently well underway along Washington’s coast and the inland waters.

Rotund pregnant females (photo right) can be seen hauled out on sandbars and rocky outcroppings, waiting to give birth. Seal moms with nursing newborns, along with pups that are newly weaned and independent, are resting on shore, log booms, private docks and marinas. For a map showing pupping seasons in the various regions of Washington state, click here.

DO NOT FEED, TOUCH OR MOVE SEAL PUPS - ALWAYS STAY BACK
Please be alert if you are strolling along ocean and Puget Sound beaches. On outer coast beaches that permit driving of motorized vehicles, be extra cautious - a tiny seal pup can look like a piece of bleached driftwood, easily run over and killed. If you come across a pup, please stay back and observe quietly from a distance. Contact the local stranding network.

It is normal for a seal pup to be alone on the beach - always keep dogs leashed and away. Stay back. Occasionally a mother harbor seal will leave her pup resting alone, returning to nurse. Or, if a pup was born on a dock or raft, often the pup cannot get back up onto the structure with mom and will end up on shore nearby. If there are people and dogs too close, she may abandon the pup. Most times, however, the pup will accompany mom to learn how to forage. Once pups are weaned at 4-6 weeks, they will be all on their own, using shoreline daily to rest and warm up before returning to the water. Seals of all ages rest on shore about 50% of their day. Undisturbed, stress-free rest is crucial to their survival.

STAY FAR AWAY FROM SEAL HAUL-OUTS TO PREVENT PUP ABANDONMENT
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If you are boating, stay 100 yards away from harbor seal haul-outs, where large numbers of seals gather for safety during pupping season. A study has shown that passing boats and kayaks are less fearsome, but vessels that stop are likely to cause animals to flush from shore. Always stay back. If the colony is disrupted, newborn pups may be abandoned due to boating disturbance and harassment. Stay back as well from log booms, rafts and docks with resting seals.

MARINE MAMMALS ARE PROTECTED BY FEDERAL LAW
It is illegal to disturb marine mammals. Harassment can be reported by calling NOAA Office for Law Enforcement’s national hotline at 1-800-853-1964 (information may be left anonymously, but details are critical for enforcement purposes).

In South Puget Sound, seal pupping season usually begins in late-June and extends into the first week of September. As pups are weaned in area rookeries, they venture off to surrounding areas. West Seattle’s busiest months for newly weaned seal pups are September and October, but over the past few years, more lanugo (premature) and newborn pups have been seen here in June. These newborn pups in urban areas, like lanugo pup Luigi, are highly likely to be abandoned because of human activity and off-leash dogs.

If you see a pup alone onshore, stay back and notify your local Marine Mammal Stranding Network. In West Seattle, call the Seal Sitters hotline @ 206-905-SEAL (9325). Click the links for a map of stranding networks in the Pacific Northwest: Washington map | Puget Sound map | Oregon map

Visit Seal Sitters’ website to learn more about harbor seals.
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