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Pup rests on a sunny Alki day

A small harbor seal pup (judging by the number of erupted teeth to be 3-5 weeks old) enjoyed a rest midday today at the south end of the Alki Beach promenade. On this gorgeous day, 5-year-old Gabriella suggested we name the pup Sunny, but we had a pup with this name in 2007 - so, this sweet little pup has been nicknamed Sunshine. Unfortunately, the pup has a nasty eye infection. He returned to the cobalt waters of Puget Sound as the incoming tide swept over him and we hope that the curative powers of salt water help him to heal. Volunteers will be on the lookout for Sunshine, our 8th pup in August, over the next few days. Please call the hotline at 206-905-7325 (SEAL) should you see him on public or private beach.

New volunteers trained to protect marine mammals

Seal Sitters trained 35 enthusiastic new volunteers, including several minors, on Saturday in a two-part training that lasted a good portion of the day. We’re very proud to have such a dedicated volunteer base and look forward to an exciting and, most likely, very crazed harbor seal pupping season. Today, two of our brand new volunteers looked after seal pup Sunshine, who was grateful to be able to take an undisrupted snooze on a very busy urban beach.

Busy early seal pup season in West Seattle

This morning, a Seal Sitters volunteer out for a walk discovered a seal pup resting between two logs at Constellation Park along Beach Drive, a frequent location for illegally off leash dogs. He quickly notified our hotline. The pup was alert and dry and had apparently been on shore for some time - and, thankfully, not quite as thin as the other pups we’ve had so far in our 2012 pupping season.

Our volunteers didn’t get much time to observe and evaluate the pup’s health. Nicknamed Olive, the pup moved quite briskly to the water’s edge after a car door slammed on the street above her (or him - one can’t tell the sex of a seal pup without a stressful exam), lingered for a few minutes and swam off into the Sound. After reviewing our photographs, it appears the pup might possibly have had some wounds, but it is encouraging that she did not seem impaired. Please keep alert for Olive as you walk the beaches so that we might do a better health assessment if she “hauls out” again. Should you spot her, please keep your distance and call the hotline at 206-905-7325 (SEAL).

This is the most August pups we have had since 2007 and may be an indication of another record breaking year ahead for seal pups in West Seattle.

Seal pups' camouflage keeps them safe - or not

pup-in-logs-blogWatch your step as you walk along the beaches for the next few months. Harbor seal pupping season is upon us and pups find refuge not only on open beach (often looking like a piece of driftwood or rock), but also nestled among the woody debris along the tide line. While their spotted coats are effective as a defense against discovery by predators, they often blend in so well that people (and dogs) can stumble upon them before it is too late and the pup is scared back into the water or injured.

Over the past two days, Seal Sitters volunteers looked after a pup at Lincoln Park. Nicknamed Palmer, the thin pup was discovered tucked in the large logs near the sea wall (shown here as the sun set Friday night). Yesterday, he crawled back out over the logs onto the beach, but was barely noticeable as his pebbled coat blended in with the pebbled beach. Passersby had a hard time locating the pup until our volunteers pointed out his location, letting them get a closer look through a spotting scope. We thank all our volunteers for putting in long hours and a very considerate and concerned public who helped us give this pup the rest he needs to survive. Palmer returned to the Sound early afternoon and could be seen splashing at the water’s surface as he fished off shore. That was a welcome sight since this weaned pup really needs to fatten up!

Respect harbor seal haulouts - it's life and death for seal pups

Boaters, kayakers and jet skiers: Please be aware that locations where harbor seals gather are sensitive and vital areas - and disturbances to seal colonies can be devastating for newborn pups. Many Puget Sound islands have state parks with seal haul outs, where the animals gather in numbers to rest and, this time of year, give birth and nurse their young. Adult harbor seals are extremely skittish and the slightest disturbance can cause a stampede into the water, often leaving vulnerable pups alone on shore. If people land watercraft or swim or picnic close to a pup, the mom may well abandon him. On a state park island last year, WDFW Marine Mammal Investigations’ biologist found a group of picnickers surrounding a pup and was told they were “waiting for the mom to return.” It is no surprise that the mom never did.

This week, our lead responder accompanied that biologist on observations of South Puget Sound harbor seal rookeries. Responding to a report of a dead seal pup on that same small island with a known seal colony and a history of conflict with recreational boaters, we found two dead pups as well as three that were emaciated and weak, but alive - and several boats and a number of people way too close. We were told that just before we arrived a man tried to put one of the pups back into the water (one of many instances, we are sure). There is no chance a mom will return to take care of her pup under these circumstances. At right is a photo which shows the tiny island on a typical August day - a virtual flotilla of boats and people (click on the Google Earth photo to enlarge). There are reports of 100 boats at this island on a weekend.

This video shows seals fleeing from a nearby South Puget Sound rookery - as an eagle lands near them. You can imagine their terror when a boat lands on their beach.

Enforcing the Marine Mammal Protection Act in remote areas is challenging. Park rangers are few and far between and access to respond to islands is especially difficult. Signs that are posted are either torn down or graffitied beyond recognition. It appears that too many humans feel that their “right” to be in nature supersedes animals’ rights to survive in their daily life and death struggle. We are dependent upon the public to spread the word that no matter where you are, if you encounter a marine mammal on the beach, you are to stay 100 yards away. If someone is harassing a pup on the beach, call Seal Sitters’ hotline @ 206-905-7325 (SEAL) immediately and we will contact the proper authorities. Take a discreet photo of a boat showing license number - NOAA Office for Law Enforcement has a better chance of prosecution with physical evidence. Do not put yourself in harm’s way. If you find a pup that appears to be abandoned, keep your distance and call the hotline.

Volunteers look after thin pup at Lincoln Park

Shortly before 10 this morning, the hotline received a report of a “thin” seal pup on the beach at Lincoln Park. The caller, Betsy, and friend Judy stood guard over the pup, keeping people at a distance until our responder to could make the trek to the park and then the long haul from the parking lot to the pup’s location. We can’t thank them enough for keeping the pup safe until we could set a perimeter.

The pup was definitely thinner than we like to see. Since we were not able to see a yawn (and therefore how many teeth the pup had), we can’t approximate the age, but are assuming the pup has been weaned and struggling to catch fish on his/her own. Pups are usually weaned at 4-6 weeks old. The pup had a good snooze as volunteers explained to the public that this is normal behavior for a pup to be resting on the beach and that most likely mom is no longer in the picture. The white, spotted pup was nicknamed Casey and returned to the water around 12:30 as the incoming tide lapped at his flippers. We hope the pup is able to snack on some of the tiny fish that are abundant around Point Robinson these days.

Please keep alert as you walk the beaches in West Seattle and surrounding waterfront communities. We are now in the throes of pupping season. Casey is the third pup at this early juncture in the season - usually September and October are high season for weaned harbor seal pups using South Puget Sound beaches. If you come across a pup, please call our hotline at 206-905-7325 (SEAL).

As our volunteers walked out of Lincoln Park, we reminded a man whose dog was swimming and running on the beach that dogs are not allowed on beaches. A weak pup stands no chance to escape from an excited dog. Within the past two weeks a pup was killed on a nearby island by an off leash dog.

Seal pup season arrives in West Seattle

Yesterday around noon, the second harbor seal pup of the season was discovered by Cheyenne and her family visiting from Boise. She named the small, spotted pup Bob. The weaned pup was tucked away in a relatively safe spot, a small stretch of public access beach, and was watched over by Seal Sitters volunteers throughout the afternoon.

Sadly, the hotline received a second report, that of a dead pup on a very popular beach. This a reminder to everyone that this time of year is truly a matter of life and death for these vulnerable seal pups, who have only a 50% chance of surviving their first year. Please give the hotline a call @ 206-905-7325 (SEAL) should you come across a resting seal pup and observe from a distance so that the pup can rest undisturbed.
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