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NW marine mammal deaths linked to land mammal parasites

A new study released this past week has revealed the presence of two parasites, previously found in cats and opossums, in marine mammals that died in the Pacific Northwest. Toxoplasma gondii enters water through infected cat feces and sarcocystis neurona is believed to be carried by opossum feces. The research concludes that marine mammals infected with both were more likely to have severe brain swelling (protozoal encephalitis) and die than just one of the parasites. Tissue samples from 161 animals that died in Washington, Oregon and British Columbia between 2004 and 2009 were tested and the parasites were found in the majority of them. The study suggested that animals with lowered immunity, such as pregnant seals, pups or yearlings, were more likely to have worse symptoms when infected with both parasites. Seal Sitters responded to three of the animals included in the study that tested positive: an adult seal in June of 2009 which tested positive for protozoal encephalitis, pup at Lincoln Park in December of 2008, and another Lincoln Park pup in January of 2009. Seal Sitters responded to a report of seal pup with seizures at Don Armeni boat ramp in January of 2011. The weaned male pup died enroute to PAWS. Initial tests were positive for protozoals in the seal’s brain. However, the cause of death for this pup is believed to have been broncho-pneumonia due to lungworm.

This study has rather disturbing implications since control of marine mammals’ exposure to foreign parasites due to storm runoff is essentially impossible to control on a large scale. It is truly the responsibility of each individual to control what materials and chemicals he or she allows in the soil/sidewalk/sewer and street drains that end up in our marine waters. As researcher Dr. Michael Grigg says in the report, “Identifying the threads that connect these parasites from wild and domestic land animals to marine mammals helps us to see ways that those threads might be cut by, for example, managing feral cat and opossum populations, reducing run-off from urban areas near the coast...and controlling erosion to prevent parasites from entering the marine food chain.” Additionally, domestic cat feces deposited in house toilets ultimately wind up in marine waters. It is obvious that there are many challenges in managing this dangerous situation.

Dyanna Lambourn, WDFW marine mammal research biologist (and SS mentor), and Jessie Huggins of Cascadia Research co-authored the study with Dr. Grigg and other esteemed researchers. Read the complete study here.

Read the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases news release here. Read the related Associated Press article here.

SS zoologist Buzz Shaw blog a fantastic resource

Seal Sitters’ scientific advisor and resident zoologist Buzz Shaw has recently been blogging about a myriad of marine topics. His blog is a tremendous resource for information (including some powerpoints) on intertidal zonation, eelgrass, plankton, etc. He will soon be posting powerpoints about marine mammals and pinnipeds. Please check out Buzz’s insightful and witty blog here.

Seal Sitters in Summer Streets event today

Seal Sitters’ volunteers are doing some public outreach today at the SDOT’s Summer Streets and Alki Community Council Family Fun Day event on Alki Beach today. The street is closed to all motorized vehicles - and various groups and vendors have tables and booths on Alki Avenue. Thanks to the volunteers who pitched in today to pitch our educational message to beachgoers. From left in the photo: Connie, Kas, Larry, Melinda and Billy. Also, thanks to Betty and Ralph who manned the table later in the afternoon and thanks to David for his behind-the-scenes work. Big flipper hugs to Alki Kayak Tours for loaning us a canopy today! Seal Sitters’ banner featuring Uko Gorter’s illustration looked spectacular hanging from it. Please stop by the table across from Pioneer Coffee and say hello. We have lots of kids’ puzzles to color and don’t forget to grab a pair of cool 3D glasses from NOAA! There is a stage near the statue of Liberty with music and entertainment all afternoon.

Beach cleanup a success

The Alki Community Council and Seal Sitters would like to thank those who turned out yesterday morning to help clean Alki Beach. The day started with a briefing by Kristin Wilkinson, NOAA Marine Mammal Stranding Expert, on the impact that our litter and trash has on marine life when it gets into Puget Sound. Colleen Hackett, Parks Volunteer Programs Coordinator, then gave us our assignments for the morning. The 29 volunteers, led by a large group from AmeriCorps, picked up trash from the west end of the Park through 54th Place SW. Enough time was available to assist Parks by removing the sand, brought in by this past winter’s storms, from the steps along Alki Avenue. The two volunteers (sisters Margie and Betty) shown in the photo are proof positive that picking up trash is not only rewarding, but can actually be fun!

We want to thank Pioneer Coffee, Tully’s, and Starbucks for their donation of coffee to get our volunteers off to a good start. Thanks to Kristin for taking time out of her busy schedule to educate everyone and also to Larry Carpenter, of both the ACC and Seal Sitters, for coordinating this event with Parks. The Council hopes to coordinate with Seattle Parks & Recreation, local businesses, and community members in an effort to minimize the problem of litter on Alki this coming summer season. If you want additional information on how you can continue to be involved, please contact Larry at 206-938-0887.

Lend a hand for beach cleanup and save marine life

Seal Sitters Marine Mammal Stranding Network and the Alki Community Council (ACC) are teaming up to organize a beach cleanup on Monday, May16th from 9am-noon. Kristin Wilkinson, NOAA NW Stranding Expert, will speak briefly at 9 about the dangers that human trash and marine debris poses to all marine life, from the tiniest of invertebrates to the largest of whales. As many of you may remember, the necropsy of the gray whale that stranded and died on a West Seattle beach last April revealed a stomach void of food, but full of trash - plastic bags, funnel, golf ball, duct tape, sweat pants. For a complete list of items (courtesy of Cascadia Research who led the whale necropsy), click here. Trash that ends up on our beaches inevitably ends up in our marine waters - causing injuries and death to marine life, often by suffocation or strangulation. For more in-depth information on marine pollution, please visit the pollution page on Seal Sitters’ website, Toxic Seals - Our Polluted Waters.


NOAA has produced several children’s activity booklets about marine debris that are available here for download: Protect the Ocean and Understanding Marine Debris. Both contain puzzles and illustrations that help kids understand the importance of keeping the beaches and marine waters free of trash - so that sea life will be here for many generations to come!

Thanks to the Americorps (Washington Reading Corps of South King County) volunteers who will be participating in the beach cleanup as well as members of ACC and Seal Sitters. This event is open to the public and all those interested in making a difference for the environment. If you, your group, or class would like to lend a hand, meet us at the Statue of Liberty across from Starbucks (Alki Ave SW near 61st) at 9am. If you have questions, please contact Larry Carpenter @ 206-938-0887. Special thanks to Carol Baker and Colleen Hackett of Seattle Parks for providing cleanup tools. Tully’s, Starbucks and Pioneer Coffee are all generously donating coffee to keep our volunteers warm and energized throughout the morning. We hope to see you there!

Happy Mother's Day to moms of all species

Seal Sitters would like to wish all you moms out there a very Happy Mother’s Day. This date is also a reminder that seal pupping season has now begun on the outer coasts of Oregon and southern Washington. Remember that it is normal for a pup to sometimes be alone on the beach. Keep your distance and call the local stranding network if you come across a pup and have any concerns. There are maps listing all of the networks’ contact infomation here.

A seal mom forms a very close and affectionate bond with her pup immediately after birth and throughout the following 4-6 weeks until the pup is weaned. During this time, she teaches the pup to swim and forage for food - all the necessary skills for the pup to try to survive on his own. In this photo, a mom nurses her pup in the waning light of evening in a southern California rookery.

School kids raise funds to protect seal pups

Students from Schmitz Park Elementary School recently made a sizable donation to Seal Sitters. The children had a “penny harvest” where everyone donates pennies, raising a significant amount of money to donate to select causes. Seal Sitters, along with other charitable groups, was invited to make a presentation to the roundtable panel consisting of 3rd-5th graders. Elizabeth Dunn, teacher extraordinaire, supervised as the students asked insightful and in-depth questions about our group, the work we do, and how donated funds might be used. We are thrilled that these amazing philanthropists chose to help out the seal pups and other marine mammals of Puget Sound. The donation will help defray the monthly costs of maintaining our dedicated hotline for marine mammal response. Huge flipper hugs to the kids of Schmitz Park Elementary and know that each time someone calls the hotline you have helped protect our wildlife!

Seal Sitters TV segment nominated for local emmy

Seattle Channel’s City Stream segment on Seal Sitters has been nominated for a local emmy. Journalists Penny LeGate and Shannon Gee produced and filmed the segment late last summer and it was featured on their season premiere. Congratulations to Penny and Shannon for their excellent work and thanks so much for giving our group and the pups we protect such great visibility!

The video can be viewed on City Stream’s website. The episode also features a story on The Seattle Aquarium’s Beach Naturalist program and the hidden treasures revealed at low tide. The segment on Seal Sitters begins at about marker 6:25, but please watch this great program in its entirety.
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