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Halloween pup at Lincoln Park

A small pup hauled out for several hours at Lincoln Park today. Seal Sitters received calls that people were “petting” a seal pup and that dogs were harassing the pup as well. The pup was alone on the beach when we arrived. The pup had tags on the rear flippers and was quickly identified in Fish and Wildlife’s database as a female from the rookeries of South Puget Sound near Steilacoom. Nicknamed “Stella” by SS, the female pup was tagged on September 17th in the South Sound, weaned and underweight at the time. Her arrival at Lincoln Park was quite a marathon swim for a two to three month old pup ~ all the way from south of Tacoma to West Seattle!

Every year, Fish and Wildlife biologists capture adult seals and pups to draw blood and blubber samples for health analysis of the harbor seal population. The animals are then tagged for id purposes in order to track their activities as they move around Puget Sound waters. Yellow tags denote females, blue tags for males and red tags for rehabbed seals or ones that spent extended time onshore. Streamers of various colors are often attached as well for easier id at long distances.

Blood samples are tested for diseases and other health perameters. Unfortunately, harbor seals are considered the barometers for the health of Puget Sound. Harbor seals in particular are affected by pollution because they do not migrate, but instead, live year-round in our region and eat smaller fish that live in our waters. Read More...

Open wide!

How do we estimate the age of a seal pup? Through photos of their teeth. Seals have between 34 and 36 teeth. The front teeth are sharp and used for grasping and tearing food, while the back teeth are used for crushing.

A nursing pup does not yet have all of his teeth, much to the relief of mom! In order to tell if a pup is weaned, our photographer tries to get photos of each pup when they yawn so we can count the number of teeth. This requires alot of patience, a long telephoto lens and a bit of luck. By the time pups show up in West Seattle, they are usually newly weaned; however, we do get some nursing pups as well. Why is it important for Seal Sitters to know if a pup is still nursing? Because it is imperative that mom is not discouraged from returning for her pup. This means keeping the area especially quiet of crowds and noise. Pups are weaned between 4 - 6 weeks of age.

Small pup rests today

A small, beautifully marked seal pup hauled out onshore for about 5 hours today. The pup picked a spot directly under a Marine Mammal Protection Act sign and behind a log so was virtually unnoticed by passersby. The weather was gloomy and cold so there were not alot of people and dogs out and about. Able to rest undisturbed, he returned to the waters of Elliott Bay around 5pm with the arrival of a large group of foreign tourists. Photos of teeth revealed that the pup is recently weaned, also evidenced by the fact that he was on the thin side.

Life rafts for seals

Many West Seattle residents have seen adult seals, yearlings and seal pups resting on platforms offshore. These platforms, built by private citizens, provide a safe alternative to busy beaches populated by people and dogs. They are heavily used by the seals to rest and warm up ~ one resident even witnessed a birth on the platform outside her condo window.

In 2007, a platform helped save the life of a severely injured seal pup (see bloody pup in photo at left). Nicknamed “Sunny”, the pup had a very deep cut to his neck possibly caused by a boat propeller. There was no way to rescue him because he would slip back off the platform into the water. However, over a period of time and able to gain strength by resting on the platform, Sunny’s wound healed in the autumn sun and salt water; proof of the value in providing these simple and low-cost refuges constructed of plywood and styrofoam. If you own waterfront property, or know of someone who does, and would like information on how to build and secure a “life raft” please email us. You can help our seals survive!

No confirmed cause of death for "Alki"

WA Fish and Wildlife biologist reports that there was no significant finding for cause of death for “Alki”. She was “markedly thin” but had a few shrimp and crab parts in her stomach, and small lacerations on her flipper and nose. There was no visible evidence of worms or parasites, though oftentimes parasites are of a microscopic nature. Tissue samples were sent out for further study.

"Luna" dies

Sadly, PAWS has reported that “Luna” died sometime during the night Friday (Oct 2nd) or early Saturday morning. Luna apparently had a worm infestation, but the necropsy (or autopsy) results have not yet been released. Hopefully, that will shed light on any additional health implications, such as a virus or pneumonia. The two lacerations inside his mouth are considered as possible wounds from fishing apparatus. SS will post any updates regarding pathology findings.

Luna is shown here returning to the Sound at first light on September 24th, robust and with no telltale signs of health issues. Unfortunately, a pup’s health can rapidly deteriorate and often leads to death within only a few days. The mortality rate of seal pups is 50%. A weaned pup is particularly at risk because they are not getting proper nourishment. They are still trying to learn the skills of how to catch food and survive. The blubber fat storage that they gained from nursing is gradually consumed for energy. As they become thinner and weaker, their immune systems are compromised and they become prime targets for opportunistic parasites and infections. Seal Sitters cannot stress enough the importance of letting these little pups have undisturbed periods of time onshore. Because, truly, the seemingly healthy pup you see today, could be in serious jeopardy tomorrow.

Pup enjoys afternoon on the beach

A very healthy-looking, alert pup nicknamed “Riley” enjoyed a leisurely rest this afternoon and into the early evening on a West Seattle beach. Here he is shown stretching in the warmth of the late afternoon sun. Riley attracted alot of attention, as he picked a haul out spot within easy view of sidewalk spectators who enjoyed his antics for many hours. Riley offered Seal Sitters a perfect opportunity to educate the public about harbor seals.

Seal pup "Luna" taken to PAWS

A weaned male pup nicknamed “Luna” was taken for treatment at PAWS early this morning by NOAA Stranding Expert Kristin Wilkinson. Based on photos sent for evaluation yesterday afternoon, a decision was made to remove him from the beach.

Luna had hauled out daily at a West Seattle beach over the past week or more, returning to the water to forage on a regular basis ~ typical behavior for a seal pup. He was chubbier than most of the pups we have had on our shore thus far this season. However, his haulout pattern changed over the last few days and he was more reluctant to return to the water to feed. He began to lose weight and exhibited signs of compromised health ~ green discharge from the eyes, nose and mouth. Yesterday’s photos revealed what appeared to be fishing line from his mouth; however, this morning no line was found. Kristin stated upon exam that he was bleeding from a wound in the mouth that could have indeed been caused by fishing gear.

Luna showed a bit of spunk when picked up from the beach; a good sign that he might be able to fight his way back to good health. Also, fair warning that a pup who is seemingly quite lethargic and extremely ill can cause severe injury to someone who is not trained at proper procedure. Seal Sitters wants to stress that a seal pup (or any other marine mammal) should never be touched, fed or removed from a beach. They are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Only personnel authorized by NOAA can approach a seal.

We would also like to thank the public for being respectful of Luna’s little spot on the beach and giving him a quiet space to rest.

Please continue to check our blog for updates on Luna’s condition and keep him in your thoughts.
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