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Local young people committed to doing good for animals

This week, Seal Sitters was invited to make a presentation to two local West Seattle Schools - Madison Middle School and Schmitz Park Elementary. Each year, students across the country collect pennies in a Penny Harvest Drive, with each school typically raising $1000. A panel of students is selected to nominate local non-profits and follow up with interviews and final recommendations for distribution of funds. We are so grateful and honored to be nominated for such an award. These dedicated young people are a true inspiration - we hope they join Seal Sitters at our upcoming May training (to be announced). Yesterday at Schmitz Park school in addition to Seal Sitters, a feral cat rescue group talked about their work fostering feral cats and kittens and neuter/spay program. They brought in 5 adorable black kittens to show the kids. Laughing, we said that NOAA won’t let us bring seal pups into the classroom and that we never get to touch or snuggle with our fuzzy friends - and the kids were shocked to hear that people actually pick up pups from the beach, mistakenly thinking a seal is better off in their bathtub. We stressed the importance of keeping people and dogs away for the safety of both the public and the pup - they are wild animals and can bite - and, of course, dogs can injure and kill seal pups.

Many thanks to the kids for being so passionate about our many animal friends and nominating us for a possible grant! Last year, we were the benefactor of a generous Penny Harvest Grant from Schmitz Park which paid the costs for many months of Seal Sitters’ dedicated phone hotline. With no Federal or State funding, we depend on donations to cover the many expenses to continue our work.

Seal Sitters protect special pup

On Sunday we received a call about a seal pup at Lincoln Park, but when our responder arrived the little seal already been scared back into the Sound. Thankfully, the pup hauled out again on the beach a bit further south. A perimeter was quickly established around the pup who had a yellow tag and red streamer on her rear flippers. With a long telephoto lens, we tried to get a photo of the number on the tag, but the angle was never quite right. The skittish pup did manage to get a bit of rest, but was scared into the water by kayakers twice. The second time, she did not return to shore, but instead could be seen sleeping in the water. Seals can sleep underwater, coming up for air every 20-30 minutes. The pup was bottling, sleeping vertically with the face up out of the water. Heads up to kayakers: If you notice yellow tape on the beach, that means there is a seal trying to rest, so please give a wide berth and paddle out away from shore. More often than not, kayakers and paddle boarders spook pups.

The next day, the pup was seen at a different park and volunteers talked to onlookers about the sleeping pup on the pebbled beach below. This time, our responder was able to get a clear photo of the tag number and we texted the WDFW-MMI biologist to find out the pup’s backstory. We were delighted to hear that this female pup came from one of the South Puget Sound island rookeries south of Tacoma where she regularly does seal counts and observations throughout the year. WDFW’s researchers use hoop nets to briefly capture seals after the pupping season has ended, taking blubber samples and drawing blood. These samples help monitor the health of the population. At that time, this little female, nicknamed Lady Dy, weighed 20.3 kg and was fully weaned. She was tagged in order to follow her progress. It’s exciting to protect a pup from our mentor’s rookery.

Seal pup Cassi has been using Constellation Park to rest over the past few days; so with two active pups our volunteers have been putting in extremely long hours. Our rookie volunteers from the early March training have been getting lots of varied experience the past couple of weeks. Today we got a bit of a break from beach duty, as we didn’t spot either weaned pup on shore.

Busy week for seal pups and new volunteers

This has been a crazy week for weaned seal pups on the beaches of West Seattle. Thankfully, we have a number of very enthusiastic new volunteers anxious to get out there and help them get the rest they need. On Monday morning, the hotline got a tip that there was a pup at Cove #3, just north of the water taxi pier. He was close to the tide line, enjoying a bit of sunshine which has been rare these days. Volunteers talked to the public about this alert and seemingly healthy pup, dubbed Primavera (since it was the first day of spring) by new volunteer Lynn. Unfortunately, a research boat motored into the cove to gather up a scientific sample and the pup was scared back into the water. The pup, however, did at least manage to get a few hours of rest.

On Tuesday, we received a call about a pup at Jack Block Park. Our responder found the pup on the small protected beach, where he rested until dark. The pup returned to the beach on Wednesday and, due to his close proximity to the overhead sidewalk, we established a small perimeter to keep people from standing and talking directly above him. 10-year-old Casey, a brand new volunteer doing a shift with her mom, named the pup Weasley (photo above). This was Casey’s first day on the job and she was filled with excitement. We asked Casey her thoughts on seal sitting: “I wanted to be a seal sitter because I just love animals and because I want to help them in the world. I think all animals are amazing and seals are super cool and adorable too!” Well, we think Casey is super cool and adorable, too!

Today, two pups found sanctuary on our shores. The first one popped up around noon north of Constellation Park. The pup was very difficult to spot on the rocky beach in contrasty light (photo left). On this gorgeous day, there were many people out strolling along the sea wall who came down onto the beach to watch him stretch and catch some zzzz’s in the balmy sun. Since the tide was out and there was public beach access, our volunteers kept watch over the pup until late in the afternoon when high tide forced the pup to move. The pup, dubbed Cassi (after the constellation Cassiopeia), wasn’t quite ready to return to the Sound for dinner and chose a spot only about 20 yards away on the public beach. Volunteers kept vigil until dark.

Our second pup of the day hauled out south of the Fauntleroy ferry. A mom walking the beach with her two small children noticed the pup resting in the shadows underneath a dock. He was alert with decent body weight for a wild weaned pup. Volunteers taped off a section of beach so that he could try to get some rest. This particular beach has issues with off leash dogs and our volunteers diverted two dogs in the time that we were there. The dog owners were extremely cooperative once they realized there was a seal pup on the beach. This little seal, nicknamed Shadow (photo below), was finally able to relax and settle in for a nap as the sun began to sink over the Olympics. It doesn’t get much better than protecting a vulnerable pup while ferries glide back and forth on cobalt waters - a simply stunning day.

Seal Sitters would like to extend special thanks to the waterfront homeowners who continue to call our hotline with reports of marine mammals on their property - especially those with public access at lower tides. We always try our best to keep a low profile in efforts to keep disruption to the homeowner to a minimum, while ensuring that seal pups can be safe on the beach. Being able to monitor and identify pups helps us with health assessments and provides data on the health of Puget Sound as a whole.

Harbor porpoise dies off Alki

(necropsy results at end of story) Yesterday afternoon at approximately 3pm, the Seal Sittters hotline received a call from NMFS (NOAA) regarding a report of a “dolphin” in distress off West Seattle. Our responder arrived within minutes, but the animal had just died below the sea wall. A witness said the animal, in reality a harbor porpoise, was swimming in circles just offshore and then died. As the tide began to recede, our lead investigator scaled a rope ladder over the wall in efforts to retrieve the porpoise before the possibility of vanishing with the surging tides. The water, however, was too deep without a wetsuit and snorkel. Calls were quickly made to WDFW’s Marine Mammal Investigations’ biologist Dyanna Lambourn and a plan was put into motion to attempt to secure the animal until a necropsy could be performed.

Since the animal was in water too deep, volunteer David took off for the diving coves in search of divers who might be able to help us out. A team of UW Fisheries divers happened to be at Don Armeni boat launch after returning from a dive. Mike Caputo and Erin Morgan graciously agreed to help out. Mike and Erin scaled the wall and he swam out (photo above) to loop a length of rope around the rear fluke and tow to a nearby piling. Erin secured the rope to the piling (left) until the network could figure out our next move.

While the team from Cascadia Research (primary response team for cetaceans in South Puget Sound and the outer coast) and WDFW-MMI weighed the options with impending tide levels, it was determined the animal needed to be moved to an area with easier access than the steep rocks below the sea wall. Our investigator scaled the wall and towed the porpoise in the surf approximately 1/3 mile down to the sandy beach at Alki. Three volunteers assisted her in getting the estimated 150 lb. porpoise high up onto the beach, secured behind a large log overnight. Volunteers Christine and Raiana measured the porpoise at 5’8” while our responders documented the general condition with photographs. There were no obvious wounds evident in our preliminary examination of the porpoise.

The Cascadia/WDFW-MMI team will pick up the animal today and perform a necropsy to determine cause of death. Please check back for additional photos and an update on the necropsy results.

To learn about harbor porpoise, click here.

UPDATE: 3/18 afternoon
Early this morning, WDFW-MMI marine mammal biologist Dyanna Lambourn and Jessie Huggins, biologist and stranding coordinator for Cascadia Research, arrived to do a preliminary exam of the animal prior to removing the body for necropsy. The harbor porpoise was an adult female and on the thin side. As the team conducted their exam, Patrick Sand and Tracy Record (left background) of the West Seattle Blog and SS volunteers David and Eilene Hutchinson observed and learned about the biology of harbor porpoise who have become more prevalent in Puget Sound waters. The animal was carried from the beach and driven to WDFW’s lab for a full necropsy. We will post the results on Blubberblog as soon as they are revealed. Thanks to all involved in this well-coordinated and challenging effort!

Just in - The preliminary results of the necropsy reveal that the 3-5 year old female harbor porpoise suffered from a severe lung infection, with approximately 90% of each lung affected with pneumonia and markedly enlarged lymph nodes in the chest. The infection appeared to be systemic - not only causing damage to the chest , but had spread to the abdomen as well. Tissue samples will be sent to multiple laboratories to determine cause of the infection (fungal, bacterial, viral, parasitic or a combination of organisms). Final results can take a couple of months.

March Madness - Seal Sitters "blubberball" goes into overtime

Seal Sitters’ volunteers have been seeing alot of action the past few days, running all around West Seattle protecting the seal pups we lovingly call “blubberballs”. Yesterday morning our hotline received an early call about a pup on Don Armeni boat launch. Sure enough, smack dab in the middle lane was a spotted pup taking a snooze. Our responder quickly grabbed cones, barricades and yellow tape and set a wide perimeter around the pup. Always our biggest challenge, the public boat launch poses many issues for ensuring the safety of a pup - while at the same time, managing to keep the peace with boaters who want to use the launch. Last season, a tragedy was narrowly averted by Seal Sitters’ volunteers as a fisherman launching his craft in the pre-dawn darkness almost ran over a pup while we were setting the perimeter. Thankfully, due to the inclement weather yesterday there were no boats using the ramp and the pup, nicknamed Oreo (yawning and stretching above) by young SS volunteer Elizabeth, had a nice, long rest. That is, until the one lone boat launched late in the afternoon. The disturbance from the boat and trailer caused Oreo to move quickly down to the water’s edge, finally returning to Elliott Bay.

In the meantime, a short distance north of there, a dark pup was discovered resting among the mossy green rocks below the sea wall. An alert dog walker called the hotline, but noticed a woman walking on the beach towards the seal with two off leash dogs. He managed to get her attention and she obligingly leashed her dogs and left the beach. We confirmed that this pup was indeed Paddycake, who had been using Alki Beach a couple of days earlier as well as the stretch of private beach south of there. Paddycake is looking thinner than we would like, but slept safe and sound until the tide forced him back to the cold Elliott Bay waters - we hope to fatten up on some shiner perch.

New volunteers anxious to help protect marine mammals

Thanks to everyone who participated in our new volunteer training held March 3rd at Camp Long. Additionally, many thanks to Parks’ Sheila Brown for the use of the space and to Tully’s on Alki for the donation of their fantastic coffee. Fifty-two additional enthusiastic people are now trained to help keep the marine mammals of Puget Sound safe. There will be a followup on-the-beach training for those volunteers scheduled soon. Did you miss this training? If so, we will be offering our final training opportunity in May for the upcoming pupping season (Aug-Oct) and hope you will be able to join us. Please check back for updates.

Satellite Sandy cruising the San Juan Islands

The seal pup that Seal Sitters MMSN rescued from the beach in August is now cruising the San Juans. We know this because after a lengthy rehab at PAWS Wildlife Center, Sandy was fitted with a satellite tag and released at a harbor seal haul out south of Tacoma. She has been moving all over the region - Olympia, Shelton, Vashon Island, 3 Tree Point, West Seattle, Richmond Beach and now the northern islands. You can follow Sandy’s lengthy travels on SeaDoc Society’s dedicated webpage and receive email alerts when a satellite picks up her signal. Her movements enable biologists to learn more about seal pup behavior. The glued-on tag will fall off when Sandy sheds her fur coat in a few months.

The latest satellite hits show that Sandy has opted to head back south and was pinged at the northeast tip of the Olympic Peninsula. This is a bit of a relief since we wonder if she is able to tell the difference between the vocalizations of the transient orcas who eat seals and that of the residents who prefer salmon. With no mom to have taught her the ins and outs of life in the wild, she is trying to figure things out on her on.

Seal pups galore in West Seattle

Seal Sitters MMSN is having our busiest “off season” ever. We have made upwards of 40 responses to dead and live pups since the beginning of the year. We are happy to say the vast majority of those are to live pups. Yesterday, the hotline received a call about a pup at Lincoln Park. Unfortunately, there was no pup on shore when our responder arrived within 20 minutes. The entire length of Lincoln Park was searched. According to the satellite map showing rehabbed and tagged pup Sandy’s travels, she was apparently near that location yesterday. This morning, WDFW’s biologist reports that Sandy is all the way up in the Richmond Beach area. The 6 month old female was fitted with a satellite tag (photo left to right: Josh Oliver WDFW, Kristin Wilkinson NOAA and Dyanna Lambourn WDFW) and released to a South Puget Sound location on January 21st following a long rehab at PAWS. Her travels provide insight into the foraging patterns of rehabilitated pups.

Yesterday we also responded to a pup resting on a stretch of private beach. The beautiful dark pup, nicknamed Paddycake (photo right), is the same one that was nearby a few days ago on private beach north of Constellation Park. On that day, Paddycake had been accompanied on the beach by a smaller pup who was scared back into the water by an offleash dog. Please, keep your dog leashed at all times if you insist on taking them (illegally) onto the beach. These weaned seal pups need their rest to survive and dogs pose a danger to them. We have pups still using beaches all over West Seattle.
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