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Weaned pups finding good food source in Elliott Bay

     
ET and Queen Latifah, the two weaned pups who have been entertaining Seal Sitters of late, seem to have successfully learned to forage on their own. Unlike many pups who struggle to survive when they no longer have mom’s rich milk to sustain them, these pups appear to be thriving.

What do weaned pups eat? According to WDFW’s marine mammal research biologist, seal pups will eat just about anything they can get their little flippers on. They prefer the tiny fish like shiner perch, 3 spined sticklebacks, starry flounder, gunnel (a favorite of the cormorants as well), midshipmen (the fish, not the sailors), shrimp and squid.

Latifah is particularly successful at hunting as you can see from her curvy physique! Most weaned pups are terribly thin as they make the difficult transition to life on their own. We are thrilled that both of our City-side pups are doing so well.





Storm fattens up at PAWS

Storm is one fat and happy blubberball at PAWS. It is shocking to compare the photos of Storm on the beach at Lincoln Park to her rotund self these days. The above photo at left was taken on September 5th and Seal Sitters rescued her the next morning. For two full weeks or more at PAWS, it was uncertain if she would survive. Thanks to Kevin, PAWS’ naturalist, for sending a recent photo of her in the big pool. She is scheduled for release sometime soon and we will keep you posted with updates.

Thin seal pup enjoys the morning sun on Alki

     
A too-thin pup hauled out early yesterday morning just as our volunteer Jennifer happened to be walking the beach. This pup with a rather serious expression, nicknamed Mad Mimi, was very alert, but was able to get a couple of hours rest since the beach was relatively deserted. From the steps near the volleyball courts, the occasional passersby were treated to a very good view of Mimi stretching in the sun. The pup’s markings were very similar to Pebbles, but id photos confirm that this is a new pup on our shores. Photos of the teeth indicate that this is one of our youngest weaned pups - in fact, perhaps weaned a bit too young. A weaned pup can expend their blubber layer and return to their birth weight within a couple of weeks of weaning if they are not successful at foraging on their own. Therefore, this is a critical time that determines their survival and we do not want them wasting precious calories by being scared back into the water. A flock of crows fluttered around the pup, cawing and creating a bit of a ruckus. The pup returned to the water when soaked by a large sneaker wave (see video - not the best sound due to high winds), but was not spotted on shore again. We will be on the alert for Mimi. As always, please call our hotline @ 206-905-SEAL (7325) if you see any marine mammal on the beach.

Both Queen Latifah and ET hauled out on the city-side rocks again yesterday. The “queen” is on her way to breaking Pebbles’ consecutive day haul out record! Thankfully, the pups are hauling out in areas that do not require constant vigilance by our volunteers.

Seal pup ET finds new home on our shores

     
The tagged pup from the island rookeries far away in South Puget Sound rested on the rocks again yesterday. Despite the wounds which still are quite infected, his body weight looks reasonably good for a weaned pup. WDFW says that in comparing our photos to the day he was tagged, the wounds do look like they are starting to heal - a long process when a pup has a depressed immune system to begin with. This pup has been named ET by our volunteers because of the similarity to the movie character and also because this pup, too, has travelled so far from home. As long as ET continues to come and go on his own and maintains a fairly healthy body weight, it is the opinion of the biologist that no rescue be attempted. Late yesterday, ET (shown here finding shelter in the wind and rain) had company on the rocks - Queen Latifah hauled out about twenty feet away from him. This seems to be a popular and very safe spot for our weaned pups. There are lots of little fish about and the cormorants are feasting on them as well.

Seal tracking study in Puget Sound

The Seattle Times’ environmental writer, Lynda Mapes, has a feature story about the latest tracking study being done on harbor seal pups in the San Juan Islands. Tracking devices are being secured on pups that have been rehabilitated to see how they survive once released back into the wild. The Sea Doc Society’s Harbor Seal Rehabilitation Study will compare the movements and survival rates of 10 rehabbed pups versus 10 wild-weaned pups. Read the Times article here.

     
A similar study is being conducted in South Puget Sound, where 21 wild pups have been fitted with radio transmitters. Mortality rates of pups have increased somewhat in our area and biologists hope that these devices will shed light on the causes. The movements of these pups will be tracked throughout the winter. The transmitters are glued on and are shed when the pups molt their first coat. Seals molt every year post pupping season. Yesterday, we had a pup on our shore (photo at left by SS volunteer David Hutchinson) who was tagged during captures as part of long-term harbor seal research study in the region. This pup was not fitted with a transmitter because he had infected puncture wounds on his rear flippers. The biologists, however, tagged the pup with a blue id tag (indicating sex as male) and flushed and cleaned the wounds with an iodine solution. When our volunteer noticed the tag, we phoned WDFW Marine Mammal Investigations to see if the pup was one of our South Sound rookery pups. Sure enough, the pup was tagged in South Puget Sound on October 7th and the biologist was happy to hear that the pup has survived thus far. The wounds are still infected, but the pup was resting in an inaccessible area. We will keep an eye out for this beautiful pup.

UPDATE: This pup has been named ET by our volunteers because of the similarity to the movie character and also because this pup, too, has travelled so far from home.

Seal pup takes break from storm on Alki Beach

     
Late this afternoon, a pup had a respite from today’s stormy weather on Alki Beach, directly across from Duke’s Chowder House. The couple who watched over the seemingly healthy and alert pup until our volunteer arrived aptly named him Duke. A series of crashing waves and an incoming tide prompted the pup to return quite suddenly to the Sound - just minutes before a pounding rain hit West Seattle. This pup was on the thin side as most of the weaned pups tend to be. That is, except for our full-figured beauty, Queen Latifah, who hauled out yet again today on the City side.

Ebb and flow determines haul out patterns of pups

     
The ebb and flow of tides greatly affects the haul out patterns of seals and seal pups. The pups that are currently using the City-side rocks for their haulout take advantage of the high tide to secure a spot far up on the rocks. This ensures that when the water level recedes, they are able to rest for many hours without being disturbed by encroaching waves.

In the photo above, taken at late afternoon’s high tide, you can see Queen Latifah (on the right) who has just hauled out, along with another yet unidentified pup (on the left) who had been hauled out since the prior high tide at 7am. In the opposite photo, you can see the pup sleeping on the same rock at low tide - quite a disturbing sight to onlookers who worry that the pup is stranded.

     
If you have ever wondered why we’ve had a number of pups on the Alki steps or even on the sea wall, this is the reason why. They come in at high tide, which gives them easy access, and they rest until the tide returns. Read the story of Forte, the world’s smartest seal pup, here. Forte came in at high tide and settled right under the Marine Mammal Protection sign on the sea wall at Alki.

There are many factors which determine the haul out patterns of seals - and not all seals haul out at high tide. There are some haul outs that are only accessible at low tide. Other sites are accessible at all times and access is not affected by tidal influence. So, patterns appear to be site specific, but time of day, time of season, air temperature, wind and precipitation are all factors in addition to tidal heights. You can read one of many scientific papers on haul out patterns here.

UPDATE: The unidentified pup here came to be known as ET.

Pups still hanging around West Seattle

     
Pups are still hanging around West Seattle, but they are now weaned and much more wary of people. Therefore, they are avoiding places that are easily accessible by people, so we’re not seeing them as often lounging on our shores. One pup, dubbed Queen Latifah for her rubenesque figure, continues to haul out on the rocks on the City side. She really knows how to forage! Two other pups have been seen at this location. According to marine mammal research biologist, Dyanna Lambourn, often when one pup hauls out in an area others follow suit. As she explains, there is safety in numbers for seal pups. One of the pups, unfortunately, is not doing so well with a severe cut on the underside of the neck and some other health issues. Please keep a distance when observing any of the pups at this location. These photos were taken with an extreme telephoto lens.

Queen Latifah is very alert. In the video embedded here you can see how the pup responds to noise from rumbling garbage trucks and people walking above her on Harbor Avenue. You can also see how resilient she is in her desire to rest onshore as the water rushes over her.

Help Storm by donating to PAWS

     

Storm is thriving in rehab at PAWS, but it is an extremely costly endeavor to rehab a seal pup - a very labor and food intensive process. We recently were able to get some video footage of Storm swimming in her big pool and being fed a tasty lunch of capelin. It is estimated that Storm’s diet runs about $350 per month. Most seal pups like herring, but Storm has an appetite for capelin, of which she consumes about 11 pounds a day! Storm will continue to grow stronger at PAWS for at least another 4-6 weeks - until she has put on a sufficient blubber store to help her survive upon release back into the wild.

Please make a donation to PAWS (designate “in honor of an animal” - West Seattle seal pup Storm) today and help pay for Storm’s gourmet meals. PAWS relies solely on donations from the public to continue their work. It is estimated that the rehab of one seal pup is approximately $10,000. If you donate, please email us and we’ll let PAWS know our readers made donations. You can also mail a check to: PAWS Wildlife Center, PO Box 1037, Lynnwood, WA 98046 (please indicate on the check that it is to go to the Wildlife Center, seal rehab).

PAWS goes the extra mile to make sure that seal pups are not given too much human exposure while in rehab so that they are not habituated to people upon release. Storm was not allowed to see us and our camera was hoisted over the top of her pool. It was very exciting to see how fat and vibrant she has become.

Pups hanging out in nooks and crannies

     
Seal pups are still hanging out in West Seattle, but seem to be choosing more tucked away (and safer) spots than on our busy beaches. The pups, now weaned, are much more alert and skittish than when they were younger and slept trustingly on our shores. Please keep this in mind if you come across a pup and try your best not to scare them back into the water. The past couple of days a very robust and alert pup, Queen Latifah, has been hauling out on the rocks on the City side. If there are too many disruptions nearby, the pup quickly disappears back into Elliott Bay. Rocks at the water’s edge prove to be a much quicker escape than maneuvering across an expanse of sand or pebbles. It’s reassuring to see such a healthy looking pup after a recent string of deaths.

Necropsy results in for Twiggy

Seal Sitters has received information regarding the necropsy results for seal pup, Twiggy, who hauled out on the south end of Alki Beach late last week. She had an abnormal liver, enlarged gall bladder and bleeding into the gastrointestinal tract. This is the third pup that SS knows of recently that has exhibited an enlarged gall bladder - the pup taken from a beach on the coast that was rehabbed successfully at PAWS, Storm who was rescued from Lincoln Park on Labor Day (and who is doing quite well at PAWS), and now this pup. Biologists do not know the root cause for this condition. Additionally, this is not the first pup that has had an abnormal liver; Twiggy’s liver was an orangish color and other dead pups have had “day-glo” orange livers according to WDFW’s marine mammal biologist. Histopaths thus far have revealed no conclusive cause for the unusual coloration.

Another pup was found dead early yesterday morning at Duwamish Head and was taken to WDFW Marine Mammal Investigations for a necropsy. This is the same pup that volunteers observed til very late the night before at the north end of Alki Beach. The pup was alert and active and there was no obvious cause for concern at that time. The pup slept comfortably among the rocks on the beach. There is a 50% mortality rate for seal pups during their first year of life. The weaning period is an extremely difficult transition for pups.

Seal Sitters signage prototypes now on Alki Beach

     
This morning Seattle Parks Department installed two versions of informational signage about seals and seal pups on Alki Beach. This was a project funded by the Neighborhood Matching Funds grant that Seal Sitters was awarded earlier this year. One sign is a cutout photo of a seal pup (Spud, who started West Seattle’s love affair with pups) and gives basic information that it is normal for a seal pup to be alone on the beach, that dogs should be leashed, and the contact phone numbers for Seal Sitters’ dispatch and the NOAA NW stranding hotline. Parks employees Sio (left) and Tony (right) pose with that sign shortly after installing it on the beach across from 2322 Alki Avenue. The second sign version goes into more detail about the biology of seals from their birth through the weaning process. It is installed across the street from Pioneer Coffee. Seal Sitters cannot thank enough the City of Seattle and Parks Department for enabling us to complete this very important educational project. Within minutes of installing the signs, a West Seattle resident entered our dispatch number into her cell phone. We encourage everyone to do the same, as pups are appearing on our beaches almost daily now.

Outreach video project for Seal Sitters

     
As part of a project funded by the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods Matching Fund program, Seal Sitters has just completed a new educational outreach video. The video will be widely viewed on our website, in public presentations, and may be aired on the City cable channel. The Neighborhood grant is an in-kind grant where volunteer hours offset the monetary donation of the City; we are very thankful to the City of Seattle for believing that Seal Sitters plays a vital role in our community. We would like to thank the many volunteers who participated in this project and who donated their valuable time. We would especially like to thank volunteers Melinda Simon and John Larson of Gypsy Soul Productions for giving us such a professional production! Additional interviews will be included in the expanded version of the video.

Life and death on Alki Beach

This morning, our responder found Twiggy, still on the beach at Alki. She could see that the pup was in trouble. There was nothing to indicate last night that Twiggy had any health concerns, other than she was on the thin side. No wounds, labored breathing, or anything else to raise alarm. She simply slept peacefully on the beach access steps. However, at 5:30 this morning, her breathing was quite labored and she displayed other symptoms that she was in crisis. Twiggy was rescued from the beach - too weak to resist - and driven to PAWS. Attempts were made to stabilize her with oxygen and fluids, but the female pup died this morning. WDFW’s marine mammal biologist will perform a necropsy to determine the cause of her death. We will update you with the results when we receive them.

Another pup was found dead this morning at Constellation Park, but was not the seal pup Stella that has hauled out there the past two days. This is the time of year when pups are struggling to survive the weaning process and, sadly, we lose too many every season.

This is the most difficult facet of Seal Sitters’ work and takes a toll on everyone involved. We give heartfelt thanks to PAWS’ staff for trying to save Twiggy and thanks, as always, to Dyanna Lambourn for her sage advice very early on a Saturday morning.

Three pups on the beach keep Seal Sitters busy

A third pup hauled out late this afternoon on south Alki Beach. This long, white and somewhat thin pup has been nicknamed Twiggy and rested late into the evening tonight. Volunteers were kept very busy trying to monitor and protect Twiggy, Brownie and Stella in completely different geographic locations in West Seattle. We also received a report of a fourth pup near the lighthouse, but that pup was not located. This pup season may well surpass our bumper crop of 2007, our first year as a stranding network. Thanks to all our very tired volunteers who have donated so much of their time these past crazy weeks.

Chubby Stella lounges on Beach Drive

     
Yesterday evening, Seal Sitters received a call about a pup on the beach at Constellation Park, however, our volunteer was not able to locate him either last night or early this morning. Late this morning, however, dispatch received a report of a pup at the same location. This small and very stout little one has been nicknamed Stella, which means star in Italian. We had concerns that she (keep in mind we have no idea of pups are male or female without a physical examination) might have a flipper injury as she seemed to favor her right flipper. Video, however, showed that she seemed to be able to use it effectively, but just was not inclined to. We are hoping that it is something minor, but will continue to monitor Stella if she returns to a beach. She is one fat little pup and had a good long rest today, well into the evening. We are not sure if she is a nursing or weaned pup.

Brownie back on shore at water taxi

     
Apparently, Pebbles has spread the word that the water taxi cove is a nice, safe place for a pup to hang out. Our brown pup with the oh-so-sweet face, Brownie, (who was there yesterday afternoon and evening) came back for a second visit today. Brownie is a very alert pup - in fact so alert that he was scared back in the water twice today, first by a kayaker (not one of Alki Kayak’s alert brigade) but he did return a couple of hours later. However, all of the traffic noise of motorcycles, cars and helicopters finally unsettled him enough that he went back in the water again this evening. This pup is easily identifiable by his white muzzle, distinctive white eyebrows and white left ear. Keep your eyes open for Brownie as you do your morning and evening commute.
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