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Pupdate: where the heck are they?

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Many of our new volunteers as well as the public are probably wondering where the seal pups are and why we haven’t seen any yet in West Seattle. This is prime time for pups to be born in the rookeries, so a little bit early still for pups to hit our shores. Most seasons, pups have begun to arrive mid-August. This year, however, the south end of Puget Sound has already had many reports of pups on shore and too many cases of human interference. Many of the pups have been born prematurely like the lanugo pup shown here.

Since both pups and adult seals follow the food source it is hard to say when they might arrive. They could fool us and be a little early this year based on so much activity in the south end. So, keep your binoculars handy when you’re out walking the beaches. And don’t forget to give Seal Sitters’ dispatch a call if you spot a pup.

Seal Sitters talks to kids about seal pups

Volunteers from Seal Sitters visited Alki Kids Place yesterday and spoke to the children about seals and seal pups. A very attentive and inquisitive group of kids saw photos and learned about the rookeries where pups are born and nursed for 4-6 weeks. They learned that it is normal for pups to come ashore to rest and warm up and that people should let them do so undisturbed. The children who participate in this summer program walk to nearby Constellation Park on Beach Drive almost every day. Now, they will be on the lookout for the pups that should be arriving soon. Every year, harbor seal pups come ashore on this popular beach - unfortunately, too, where dogs are often illegally off-leash. Dogs are a danger to these extremely vulnerable young seals - and dogs can catch diseases from them as well. These children know that if they see a seal pup, they should keep people and dogs away and call Seal Sitters. Many thanks to Cheryl and the kids at Alki Kids Place! Contact Seal Sitters if you’d like us to speak to your group.

Boaters endanger newborn seal pups at haul out sites

     
This is a reminder to all boaters that this is harbor seal birthing season and boating (or kayaking) too close to a seal haul out this time of year puts newborn seals in grave danger. On Thursday, while a WDFW marine mammal biologist was observing a south Puget Sound seal rookery, a boat filled with adults and children intentionally ignored signs warning of a closed harbor and sped directly towards the island where over 200 seals rested. Within several seconds the entire rookery was in chaos and the site evacuated by the seals. A female was in active labor as the boat roared towards her and she gave birth on the beach and disappeared into the water - leaving the pup still in the amniotic sac at the water’s edge. The boat then turned and roared away. For the next 15 minutes, the biologist waited anxiously to see if the mother would return for her pup. If a mother seal does not imprint and bond with her pup immediately after birth, the pup will be abandoned and die a slow, agonizing death by starvation. Thankfully, this mom and pup were reunited. However, there are already several abandoned pups at this haul out site - either the result of similar boating incidents or the result of some other disturbance where mom and pup were separated. Seal pups only have a 50% survival rate the first year.

     
NOAA Enforcement is investigating the incident and examining photos and video of the boat and occupants. It is against the law to harass marine mammals with consequences ranging from steep fines to jail time. Please, boaters, be respectful and let seals rest, give birth and nurse their young. As of Thursday, there were 18 pups and numerous pregnant females at the rookery. The birthing season extends into September in our region. Enjoy our waters and enjoy the wonder of seals from a safe distance.

Seal talk at Highline Community College Marine Science Center

“There’s a seal on my beach. What do I do?” Adrianne Akmajian, Marine Mammal Research and Stranding Intern with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, will talk about seal pups this Saturday. Come learn what to do when a seal lands on your beach and what local researchers do in response. There will be a slideshow of the birth of a seal pup. The talk will be held Saturday, July 17, 12:00-12:45 pm. Admission is free. Highline Community College MaST Center is located near the Redondo Beach Park.

Gray whale strands on Tulalip Reservation

     
(see updates at end of story)
The Everett gray whale stranded yesterday in Tulalip Bay on the Tulalip Reservation. Members of Seal Sitters, Sno-King Marine Mammal Stranding Network and WDFW responded to the scene. The mud flats of the bay restricted access to the whale which lay exposed to the extreme sun and heat. As the tide came in, however, the Tulalip Bay Fire Department zodiac managed to get a pump close enough to keep the whale wet and cool. A borrowed canoe allowed a stranding team member to get sheets to the scene so the whale could be covered and more protected. The tide finally covered the whale about 2pm. The Tulalip tribes honored the whale and prayed for him to get well. The repeated stranding behavior of this adult whale is indicative that he is most likely dying. The gray was spotted by NOAA on Saturday at 4:30 at Spee-Bi-Dah heading north into Port Susan. See related gallery of photos.

UPDATE:
7/13/10 Transient orcas were seen attacking the gray whale yesterday afternoon (Monday). Related story and video.
7/12/10 The gray was spotted this morning (Monday) at 6:30 am heading east toward Camano Island.

Gray whale strands in Everett

     
A gray whale stranded yesterday morning in Everett off Harborview Park. It is believed to be the same whale that has been feeding in the Everett area for some weeks now. NOAA had responded to earlier reports of a stranding at this location, but the whale had managed to swim free before the stranding expert arrived.

Yesterday, however, the whale was marooned on the beach at low tide. Concerned neighbors in shorts and swimsuits assisted in keeping the exposed whale wet and cool. However, as the water rose and the whale became more active it became too dangerous for them to continue to help. Members of the NW Stranding Network (above photo from left, Jessie Huggins of Cascadia Research, Kristin Wilkinson of NOAA, and Brian Chittick of Snohomish-King County Stranding Network) labored for hours pouring buckets of water over the whale - until finally the incoming tide created a water level deep enough that he could swim free. They then boarded a boat with a team from WDFW Marine Mammal Investigations and monitored the whale until 2pm when he finally left the shallower waters and headed out into the strait.

Early this morning the whale stranded again and the Stranding Network responded. Approximately 2:30 this afternoon he was in 7-10 feet of water as the tide came in. NOAA is not optimistic about the whale’s survival based on his behavior and weakened condition.

Pupping season has begun - don't touch seal pups!

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Our seal pup birthing season has begun in South and Central Puget Sound. Typically, pups born in the rookeries won’t visit our urban Seattle shores for about a month or so. However, there have already been premature and full-term pups on beaches from Everett to Tacoma. Sadly, there have also been illegal pickups of some of those pups. A premature pup is often distinguished by a long, white lanugo coat that is usually shed inside the womb. A premature pup already has a reduced chance of surviving - one that is diminished even more if people interfere. Please spread the word that it is against the law to pick up a seal pup. Their best chance to survive is with their mom. Do not move them! If you see a pup alone on the beach, call the NOAA Stranding Hotline 1-800-853-1964 or (in West Seattle) Seal Sitters 206-905-SEAL (7325).
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