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Rainy day rest for seal pup Sweet Pea

Shortly after hotline operator L.A. received a report early yesterday morning, our responders found a weaned harbor seal pup trying to rest on the beach at Lincoln Park. Very close to the walking path because of a high tide, the pup was alert and skittish to the activity around her. We were afraid she would return to the Sound before we could get a perimeter established. Quickly, however, we were able to allow the pup an extra few feet of space by taping off part of the walkway, still leaving plenty of room for walkers and bikers to have a thoroughfare.

It is a testament to how much Sweet Pea desperately needed rest that she would eventually settle in for a long snooze on a very rainy day, even with people much too close. Occasionally, the pup would lift her head to take a look at her admirers, then settle back down on her colorful bed of sea lettuce and kelp. Like almost all weaner pups facing winter’s challenges, Sweet Pea appears to have a bit of respiratory issues, but she has reasonably good body weight which should help bolster her immune system.

Sweet Pea was still sleeping on the beach when the Seal Sitters team left Lincoln Park at dark. The approaching darkness seemed to bring out the off leash dog people. Four folks had to be asked to put their dogs on a leash (as did several others throughout the day). One woman, coming down from the Lowman Beach end of the Park, had 3 large dogs off leash on the beach. When a volunteer informed her of the resting seal pup, the owner had difficulty controlling her dogs. Fortunately, Seal Sitters interrupted her early and she got them turned around and headed back the other direction, dogs still off leash and still on the beach - against the law in all Seattle Parks. Off leash dogs continue to be a huge problem and real danger for all wildlife. Earlier this year, a seal pup was killed by an off leash Golden Retriever on a Puget Sound beach. The seal pup’s backbone and spinal cord were severed, organs lacerated and the pup died a terrifying and agonizing death. Recently, one of the resident geese at Lincoln Park was attacked - thankfully, the goose survived, but residents and responsible dog owners are outraged.

Volunteers will be checking the beach at Lincoln Park for Sweet Pea at first light this morning. As always, if you see a seal on the beach, call the Seal Sitters hotline @ 206-905-7325 (SEAL). Thanks to our volunteers who spent many hours in the rain today and to scheduler Nancy who coordinated their shifts!

Pupdate 11/29/12 9am
Sweet Pea was not on the beach at first light this morning. However, there WAS an off leash dog running and barking along the beach.

Captain sets sail for another port

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It appears that our adult harbor seal Captain has set sail for another location since she has not been sighted since Thanksgiving Day. Much to our dismay, on Thursday morning she exhibited symptoms of lung issues, confirming our gnawing suspicion that she might have some underlying health issues - since adult harbor seals won’t usually tolerate the presence of humans and she picked a busy, urban spot to rest. During a stretch of 23 days since first reported on November 3rd, Captain came ashore all but a handful of those.

We hope she has chosen a quieter stretch of beach to heal and gain strength. Seal Sitters thanks all our volunteers who protected Captain during wet, windy and cold weather, checking on her often as late as midnight each night. And huge thanks to local residents who were so caring and helped us keep her safe. Harbor seals think West Seattle rocks - and so do we! We’ll continue to be on the lookout for Captain.

So much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving Day

On this morning when we traditionally reflect on the many things we are grateful for, Seal Sitters wants to thank all of our amazing volunteers for their hard work and dedication protecting the marine mammals of Puget Sound. The many hours you spend, rain or shine, lugging stranding materials, stretching perimeters and educating the public has truly transformed the shores of West Seattle into a safe haven for seal pups.

So many thanks go out to the residents of West Seattle who have embraced (figuratively speaking, of course) these pups, giving them the space they need in their struggle to survive against challenging odds. We cannot thank you enough for your support over the past 6 years.

Special thanks go out to Dyanna Lambourn, WDFW-MMI marine mammal biologist, for her tireless mentoring and sage advice and to Kristin Wilkinson, NOAA’s NW Marine Mammal Stranding Network expert, for her support and generosity.

And, of course, we thank our little “blubberball” pups for gracing our lives with their presence. It is hard to describe the sense of peace one feels watching over a sleeping pup. We reap such immense rewards - just by giving a small bit of beach to these beautiful, sweet beings. We thank them for all the smiles they have given us as they stretch and yawn and snooze. We thank seal pup Spud, our first seal pup in 2007, who came ashore on crowded Alki Beach in mid-August and was the impetus for the formation of Seal Sitters.

We wish you all a very happy Thanksgiving holiday.

Adult harbor seal has sex change

Thanks to better identification photos obtained yesterday, it has been confirmed that Captain, the adult seal who has been using a West Seattle beach for going on several weeks now and at first believed to be a male is, indeed, female! Captain showed up earlier than usual yesterday - in broad daylight - most likely due to riding out an intense storm the night before when she did not come ashore. She is shown here settled in on the beach for a long rest.

Since Captain has been hauling out either in near darkness or after dark, photos sent to a consulting marine mammal biologist last week for health assessment and evaluation were not terribly sharp - hence the error in gender identification.

It is very difficult to determine sex of harbor seals even with optimum photos since, unlike sea lions, male sexual organs are internal. Additionally, unlike many species, male harbor seals are not significantly larger or exhibit unique physical characteristics. Both Steller and California sea lion males are much larger and weigh hundreds more pounds than females. Male California sea lions develop a bump on their forehead, called a sagittal crest, which indicates sexual maturity (see photo at left taken this morning of a CA sea lion male in Elliott Bay).

Wind and rain can't dampen volunteers' spirits

The latest wave of hard rain and gusting winds can’t deter Seal Sitters volunteers from our mission of protecting marine mammals. Each day, rain or shine, we’re out looking for the adult harbor seal, dubbed the Captain, to ensure that when he comes ashore, he will not be disturbed. With the exception of a couple of nights, he has chosen the same beach to rest since November 3rd, when some students from UW called the hotline with a report. The three young women, out on a late evening stroll, had stopped to read one of our seal informational beach signs when they happened to look to the beach on their left. Lo and behold, a seal was resting there. One of the students immediately called the hotline number which she had just entered into her cell phone.

Soaked volunteers have been pounding stakes and stretching tape in torrential rain the past several evenings as a major storm has swept into South Puget Sound. Last evening and late into the night, dedicated volunteers checked the beach to see if the Captain had hauled out, but as of 11pm he had not. He may have decided to move on or chose to ride out the storm in the water, rather than be battered by wind and rain on shore. We will continue to monitor the area until we are sure he has abandoned this chosen haulout.

Late Saturday afternoon, Captain came ashore as darkness fell. A weak bit of light filtered through the rain clouds, enabling us to grab some video with a long lens and camera which was monitored remotely. We have had limited ability to get health assessment photos due to the fact that it is usually too dark by the time he hauls out. Captain is very alert to the noise of sidewalk passersby and busy street traffic and bus stop just above the small beach where he tries to rest. He does look thinner than we would like, but we have not observed any real health issues. Adult harbor seals can weigh up to 300 lbs., reaching lengths from 5-6 feet. Adult males are slightly larger than females. It has truly been a treat to protect this beautiful seal.

Adult seal finds safe haven on West Seattle beach

For 8 of the last 10 evenings, an adult harbor seal has been coming ashore to rest on a sandy West Seattle beach. Thankfully, there is only one point of access to the small beach which enables Seal Sitters to establish a secure perimeter around the seal, doing our best to ensure that he won’t be disturbed.

It’s unusual for us to have an adult seal on an urban beach, since they are extremely wary of people; most times, they will be seen on the platforms off shore. However, over the years, we have had several adult seals use the dock at Don Armeni boat launch, including Otis Redding (who rested on the dock for many days in a row while he healed from an ear and parasitic infection) and Heidi Klum, a gorgeous blond female. At night, the abandoned and inaccessible dock at Jack Block Park is heavily used by seals and, most likely, the more remote beaches around West Seattle are used then as well.

This large male has been nicknamed Captain and appears to be healthy, albeit a tad bit thin. We thank the neighbors in the high rise condos across the street who keep watch out their windows late at night, making sure the tape perimeter has not been breached. One night some teenagers crossed the tape, standing on the sea wall above the seal taking photos. An alert neighbor yelled out that they needed to get behind the perimeter. Captain has developed quite a passionate fan base over the past week or so. Protecting him has been a real treat for volunteers and the public.

Seal Sitters’ hotline received a call late this afternoon with a report of a dark little harbor seal pup who had come ashore several times on Alki Beach, only to get repeatedly spooked by people and return to the water. After the 4th attempt, and just before our responder arrived, he swam north and was not sighted again. While searching for the pup along the sea wall, we discovered that Captain had shown up a bit earlier than usual this evening and was already snoozing at his hangout. Volunteers David and Eilene quickly established a perimeter and talked to the curious crowd which had gathered.

11/13/12 am PUPDATE
Last night about 7pm, hotline guru Sharon answered a call from a Seattle Aquarium and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife team. They were at the seal’s location in hopes of securing a cage of mussels on the beach as part of a study of toxicity levels in Puget Sound. They noticed the tape perimeter and called the hotline to see if they could gain access. The team amicably agreed to use an alternate, but close location to secure the cage. We so appreciate their cooperation. While the seal appears to be healthy and, as an adult, not so vulnerable as a small pup, Seal Sitters’ concern is that if we do not continue to allow Captain to rest at this chosen haul out, he might well choose one that is dangerous to him or one we cannot monitor. Huge thanks to the toxicity research team!

Lucy enchants observers at Lincoln Park

Yesterday morning, the hotline rang with a report of a seal pup very close to the walkway at Lincoln Park. Our responder immediately headed out and found a very active pup being guarded by the woman who made the call. We can’t thank Leslie enough and other callers who are willing to stay and protect a seal until we can arrive. Lincoln Park is especially time-consuming for a response because it is at the south end of our boundary and responders have to hike in quite a distance.

The weaned pup was animated, facing the sidewalk, and a crowd quickly gathered as our responder tried to establish a protective perimeter. Even so, people were allowed much closer than the recommended 100 yards due to the physical constraints of the location. In these situations we do the best we can to allow the pup some peace and quiet, but sometimes that is difficult to accomplish. Alexa, a young child who stopped and stood behind the yellow tape with her mom, was given the opportunity to name the pup. She promptly suggested Lucy.

Lucy seemed just as curious about the excited people as they did about her. She stretched her flippers (regulating her body temperature as she tried to warm up), prompting smiles and laughter, but finally settled in for an extended nap. Little Lucy is terribly thin and has some cuts on her rear flippers, but returned to the Sound after dark. We hope she spent the night stuffing her fluffy white belly with lots of herring, squid and midshipmen (the small fish, not the Navy sailors). If you see Lucy on shore (or any other seal), please call our hotline at 206-905-7325 (SEAL) and keep people and dogs away.

Late season seal flurry keeps volunteers busy

Volunteers have been scrambling night and day to help harbor seals rest on West Seattle’s urban shores. Sealy Dan, the hitchhiking seal pup, (right) spent Sunday and Monday at Jack Block Park, returning to Elliott Bay each evening like clockwork at about 5pm. The pup looked thin on Sunday, but was very alert.

Volunteers talked to about 40 people over the course of the day Sunday, including quite a few children who were thrilled to quietly observe the pup. Unfortunately, as per usual, there were off leash dogs in the park. 5 year old Seal Sitter Louisa (below) politely, but firmly, informed several people in the park that there was a seal pup trying to sleep and they needed to leash their dogs. Louisa gets Spud’s “Seal of Approval” - it is very empowering for a child to be able to make a difference and protect a wild animal. Our kid Seal Sitters rock!

Sealy Dan appeared much plumper (but still thinner than we’d like) on Monday - so, it looks like he found some bounty in the waters of Elliott Bay. We didn’t see him Tuesday.

Not only are pups seeking refuge on the beach, but we’ve also had an adult seal who has come ashore three evenings now at a different location. This is a real treat for volunteers and the public. Adult harbor seals are extremely wary of people and our first concern was that perhaps the seal had some health issues. However, he/she returns to the Sound during the night and appears to be healthy - he must feel safe and secure in seal-friendly West Seattle.

Ma Kai has continued to haul out at her cove after dark for well over two weeks now, but did not come ashore last night to our knowledge.

Seal pup Sealy Dan hitches a ride on passing kayak

Two paddlers out for a journey in Elliott Bay this afternoon got a pleasant surprise when a seal pup’s head broke the surface of the water and he swam alongside them around Harbor Island. Jeff Kelley remarked to his son Tyler, visiting from Brooklyn, that seals were curious and often liked to tag along.

They were stunned when the pup hopped onto Jeff’s kayak. He straddled the back and promptly settled in for a snooze. Jeff said he had heard they “needed to rest”, but fully expected the pup to stay only briefly. After about 30 minutes, the pup still showed no interest in returning to the water. Tyler managed to call Animal Control who referred them to Seal Sitters’ hotline and operator Tess. When Tyler said, “There’s a seal pup on the kayak - what do we do?”, she immediately called our lead responder who was only minutes away and could see the two kayaks just offshore at Jack Block Park.

Hopping into her SUV with a PBS crew in tow (KCTS 9 is doing a segment on Seal Sitters), they dashed over to help out. The pup definitely was not interested in leaving the comfort of the kayak. Our responder suggested that Jeff give the pup a gentle little nudge that it was time to disembark. Not easily persuaded, the hitchhiker didn’t budge. Then, we tried gently rocking the kayak back and forth, the pup slid off into the water and swam away. Jeff said it was truly a “blessing” that the pup had shared the ride.

This is not a violation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act because the pup came onto their craft. The boaters did exactly the right thing - they savored this amazing moment and respectfully allowed the pup some rest. Then, when it was time to move on, they quietly coaxed the animal into returning to the water. It is never advisable to paddle a far distance from where a pup hops on. A weaned animal might waste many precious calories returning to the previous location - or, if the pup is still nursing, the mom will not be able to locate her pup, who cannot survive without her. If in doubt, or if you think the animal is injured, call the stranding network hotline.

PBS reporter Katie Campbell and videographer Michael Werner were thrilled to video this unusual event for the segment they are working on. We do occasionally spot a seal pup lounging on a log out in the water - just this season off Lincoln Park. A tired pup is often not choosey about a haulout. Michael named the beautiful dark pup, Sealy Dan. Seal Sitters hopes Sealy Dan will visit our shore so we can assure him a good, long rest.

Seal pup season heats up as weather cools down

Like in seasons past, our seal pup season in West Seattle really heats up in the late fall as weaned pups seek refuge on shore. We seem to have a number of pups hanging out in Elliott Bay as coho salmon makes a run for the Duwamish River and where there are big fish, there are little fish (and fish scraps) for small harbor seal pups.

Ma Kai continues to haul out after dark and snooze as she has every night for the past two weeks now. She is a very chubby and alert pup and our volunteers are elated to protect her and keep her that way. Ma Kai is shown here, illuminated by a streetlight, as she stirs and gets ready to head back to the water from her safe cove.

The dark rings shown around Ma Kai’s eyes are from a mucous membrane that protects the surface of the eye while swimming underwater. These rings are a good indication that she is well hydrated. Seals and sea lions don’t drink water - they get all the hydration they need from the food they eat. A seal drinking water is an indication that the animal has a serious and often fatal, disease, Leptospirosis, which can be transmitted between mammals (including humans and dogs) by contact with urine.

Both Ma Kai and another pup, Wailea, have chosen another very dangerous location to rest two nights this week. Wailea, another alert and reasonably plump pup, was found in the middle of a dark parking lot accessible from Elliott Bay and could have easily been run over. Ma Kai was there last night. We have stationed volunteers until very late at night, protecting the pups in these two instances. Seal Sitters hopes they abandon this vulnerable location and return to the safety of Ma Kai’s cove.

As always, if you see a pup on shore - especially in a dangerous location - call our dedicated hotline @ 206-905-7325 (SEAL). If it is at night and a volunteer does not answer the hotline, please leave a detailed message with time, location and your callback number.

Many thanks to the officers of the SW Police Precinct for their support in helping keep seal pups (and volunteers) safe in vulnerable locations.

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