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Seal pup Skittles resting, Seal Sitters sprinting

For the third day in a row, skinny little seal pup Skittles has been using the shoreline along the Alki Beach side of West Seattle to soak up some sun. Yesterday, Seal Sitters received a call about 1pm and found him (or her) zonked on the sand at Alki Beach next to a log. Responders established a substantial perimeter around the pup, anticipating that he would come closer up on the beach as the tide came in. Indeed, he did and offered a great view for all the passersby who peered through the “scope” for a closeup look and had their many questions answered by volunteers. As the afternoon wore on into evening, hungry volunteers who had spent many hours protecting Skittles, munched on pizza picked up from a nearby restaurant. The pup was still on the beach late into the night, but went into the Sound before sunrise.

Early this morning, our responder searched the beaches at first light and found the sleeping pup on another beach. Skittles snoozed peacefully throughout the morning under the watchful eye of volunteers - unaware that a woman running with her off leash dog was headed straight for him. Our volunteer alertly intercepted her and she left the beach. We believe this is the same woman and dog that scared seal pup Henry last year on this same beach, causing him to fall deep into a hole in the rocks. Around noon, Skittles stirred, woke up and swam off into the waves.

We had a feeling he would reappear shortly to the south on Alki Beach - and so he did. Volunteer Betsy spotted him at the very north end of the beach. We schlepped cones, stakes and sandwich boards and established yet another perimeter around the pup who was resting at the tideline. In the photo above, he does the banana pose, regulating his body temperature. Skittles didn’t stay long, though, and as some waves lapped at him, he turned and swam south.

Volunteers lost sight of his little silver head in the blue waters, but noticed that a pup that had just hopped up on one of the platforms at the south end of Alki. We compared photographs of the pup on the raft with photos taken today on the beach and it was Skittles. As darkness fell, he was still safely on the raft.

Skittles is terribly, terribly thin, has some minor flipper wounds and it looks as though he has been scratching his chest. If you see a pup on shore, please call our hotline immediately @ 206-905-7325 (SEAL). We are keeping a close eye on his health.

9/28 7:30 am PUPDATE
Skittles was still resting on the raft under a double rainbow early this morning. We hope he stays out on this much safer alternative to the beach with an easy in and out of the water for lots of snacks.

No sittin' for Seal Sitters as pups keep us on the run

Yesterday was a busy one for Seal Sitters’ volunteers as we responded to numerous reports of seal pups on the beaches of West Seattle.

First up, a snoozing pup on the sand beneath the sea wall along Alki Avenue. The savvy woman who spotted the pup not only immediately called our hotline, but thwarted a woman and her off leash dog from scaring the pup back into the water or, worse, possibly injuring him/her. Our responder arrived within minutes of the call and quickly established a large perimeter to ensure the pup could rest undisturbed. Volunteers watched over the pup, nicknamed Skittles, until the tide forced him to return to the Sound around noon. In the photo, Skittles stretches and thermoregulates, circulating warmth through his body and regulating his temperature.

Volunteers searched the shoreline along Alki and all the way around Duwamish Head, anticipating the thin pup would seek another haulout. Eagle-eyed volunteer Eilene spotted Skittles nestled next to a large log at the north end of Alki Beach. Cones with stakes and sandwich boards were placed in strategic spots and taped stretched between them to create another crib of sorts for young Skittles to nap in peace. Around 7pm, Skittles swam far out into the Sound as the sun set and our volunteers went home happy. We’re hoping Skittles got lots of vittles to pack on some blubber.

The other two reports were of pups at Lincoln Park north of Colman Pool and a small beach just south of the ferry dock. Both pups went in the water before our responders arrived.

So, lots of pups are popping up. Keep alert and call the hotline at 206-905-7325 (SEAL). Thanks to all our dedicated volunteers who put in a very long day yesterday!

Thin isn't "in" for seal pups

This season we are seeing too many terribly thin pups and not enough chubby ones. Unlike our two-legged species that is obsessed with being thin, skinny is not a good thing for harbor seal pups. A good blubber layer is essential to keeping pups warm and providing energy - it is truly life sustaining. The alert pup shown in the photo above, although hardly robust, is in stark contrast to the two emaciated ones sharing the raft off Alki Beach.

Unlike northern elephant seals who have such a thick layer of blubber that they spend 10 months a year at sea, harbor seals need to haul out daily for many hours to rest and warm up - they can’t maintain their body temperature in the cold, cold waters of Puget Sound. And a struggling pup with a thin layer may spend even more hours out of the water. A good blubber thickness for a healthy weaned seal pup is 2.9 cm. The two pups resting on this raft have a much thinner blubber layer - most likely less than half that of a thriving pup. These pups need as much rest as they can get and we are thankful for the waterfront owners who established these off-shore rafts. If you are interested in plans for building and securing rafts, please contact us.

Why are our pups so thin? In a 20 year WDFW study of seal pups in South Puget Sound, statistics reveal that a Northwest pup usually weighs about 18-22 lbs (8-11 kgs) when born. They quickly gain weight, feasting on mom’s milk which is almost 50% fat, and should weigh close to 45 lbs (18-21 kgs) when weaned after 4-6 weeks. Pups that have had an attentive mom are truly “blubberballs”, rotund enough to survive the transition to foraging on their own. However, a pup can easily drop back down close to birth weight within a month of weaning depending on fishing skiils or if food sources are diminished. Over the past two years it seems that there has been a bounty of small fish, squid and shrimp for our pup population. While we still had quite a few deaths as with each season, we also had many thriving pups. Not so this year. However, the recent return of the fishermen may bode well in one respect for the seal pups: where there’s big fish, there’s the bait fish that pups depend on. SeaDoc Society just completed a study about changing foraging habits of the Common Murre (sea birds that nest on Washington’s Tatoosh Island) as food sources diminish in the Salish Sea. The Murres are dependent on declining “energy-rich prey”, in particular the same herring and smelt that sustain our pups (read about it here).

As we have stated many times, a thin pup is significantly more at risk for opportunistic parasites and viruses. Hopefully, the fall fish runs will bring lots of bait fish to fatten up our pups and bolster their immune systems. Blubber is a beautiful thing.

Pace picking up for seal pup season

For the second day in a row, the hotline received reports about a seal pup at Lincoln Park, this time near Colman Pool. When our responder arrived on scene in the gray early morning mist, the park walker who phoned in was vigilantly protecting the pup so that people (and dogs) wouldn’t get too close. The responder quickly placed cones with “Do Not Enter - protected marine mammal” signs on the beach well away from the snoozing pup and stretched a sizable tape perimeter to cordon off the area.

It was obvious from markings on the pup’s fur that this was not the same one that had rested near the north end of the park the evening before. Volunteers were soon lined up in shifts to ensure the pup’s safety and educate the public on seal behavior throughout this gorgeous fall day. In the photo above, volunteer Eric (on the right) points out the pup to some of the many curious onlookers. Later in the day, young Vincent, his 9-year-old sister V and their mom, who recently moved to West Seattle from Hungary, were fascinated and excited to learn about seal pups in their new neighborhood.

By the end of the day, the pup, nicknamed Patches, had moved away from the logs toward the water. It became evident that he was much skinnier than originally thought. Patches finally swam off into the deep blue water as darkness approached and the water began swirling around him. We’re hoping he managed to find a feast of some small fish, squid or shrimp so he can put on some pounds. Thin pups are much more susceptible to parasites and viruses.

Thanks to all the fishermen near Colman Pool for respecting Patches’ need to rest on the beach. Maybe he should take some fishing lessons and fatten up.

Seal pup Chumley is season's number 12

About 6pm last evening, quick-witted Laura who was walking at Lincoln Park called the Seal Sitters hotline to report a pup resting on the park’s north-end beach. Our responders arrived within minutes to find an alert and reasonably robust pup tucked near a large log. The pup was named Chumley and is our 12th pup of the season. Chumley was able to rest undisturbed under the watchful eye of volunteers; however, an off-leash dog ran down the path from the hill above onto the beach close to him. Thankfully, our volunteers were able to coax the curious dog out from under the tape and a mere 5 feet from the pup. The dog then ran off, back up the hill. No owner was ever seen.

The north end of Lincoln Park is notorious for people with off-leash dogs and is an area heavily used by resting seal pups, as is all of Lincoln Park. We cannot stress enough the dangers of mingling these two species. Not only is it highly likely that a seal pup could be injured or killed by a dog (as the recent seal pup death on a Puget Sound island), but also the animals can transmit diseases between them. Please remember and respect the City law that prohibits dogs, leashed or unleashed, from public beaches. Lincoln Park now has an off-leash area for dogs where they can run free and not potentially harm another species. Chumley was still on the beach when our volunteers left the park at dark. It is not safe for our volunteers to remain after dark in remote areas.

This harbor seal pupping season is a bit of a change from last year’s. We have had fewer pups visit our shores and so far they are not returning for days in a row. Consequently, we have had less “responses”. This could change any day now as we move into fall with upcoming salmon runs. Where there are big fish, they are usually the small bait fish that seal pups forage on. That could increase our numbers - or the 5 pups that are currently using the platforms could decide to move to the beaches to rest.

7:00 am pupdate
Our first responder arrived in pre-dawn light this morning to see if Chumley was still on the beach. He was not. However, the spot where he had been resting was covered with huge dog paw prints and a man’s footprints. Had Chumley still been there and was he harmed? We won’t know unless he shows up again with a wound. Many, many responsible dog owners are equally upset at this irresponsible behavior by other dog owners. PLEASE obey the law and keep dogs off City beaches. Respect other animals that are trying to survive on our beaches - share the shore. Chasing migrating shorebirds and resting seal pups can mean the difference between life and death for these animals.

Offshore rafts save seal pup lives - keep your distance

Three offshore platforms along Beach Drive and Alki Avenue are being heavily used by seal pups (and adults) the past couple of weeks. These “life rafts”, as we call them, are truly that. They provide safe haven offshore for pups to rest undisturbed. Rest is vital to a seal’s survival. Unlike many marine mammals, they cannot swim constantly. They spend about 1/2 their day resting and warming up out of the water.

In our urban areas, with crowded beaches, they will “haul out” on a platform instead of the beach if one is around. While a platform keeps them safe from dogs and beachgoers, it does not keep them safe from harassment by curious kayakers and paddle boarders. We have been hearing reports of people in water craft causing pups to abandon the rafts. Not only are people to stay back from marine mammals on shore (NOAA guideline is 100 yards), but also in the water, as clearly stated by the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Altering an animal’s behavior is considered a violation of this Federal law. Please observe these resting pups from a distance. We do not want them scared off the platforms and come ashore, where they are much more vulnerable to disturbance or injury. Many of these pups are very thin and don’t have calories to spare, burning them unnecessarily. Please stay back - you can save a life!

If you own waterfront property and would like information on building a raft (we can provide plans), please email us.

Seal pup uses southend beaches for refuge

For the past two days and evenings, a harbor seal pup has rested on West Seattle’s southend beaches. The hotline received a call late Thursday afternoon of a pup snoozing at a Brace Point neighborhood beach. Our responders found the somewhat thin, but very alert pup on the sandy beach. We established a tape perimeter and talked to neighbors about the pup’s need to rest and how critical this was to his (or her) survival. A group of men were about to launch kayaks for their yearly “race”, but agreeably changed their plans when they learned a pup was resting at the site. Humongous flipper hugs to them for showing such concern and respect for this little pup. The pup was still on the beach as darkness fell, but returned to the Sound overnight.

Yesterday, a report came in of a pup at Lincoln Park in the logs near our beach sign near Colman Pool. Our responder quickly arrived on scene and found the pup sound asleep nestled in the wood debris. He taped off the area, our volunteer scheduler was notified, an email titled “seal pup on the beach” was sent out to all volunteers from an iphone. A wave of volunteers helped out throughout the afternoon until dark when the pup, nicknamed Junior, began to stretch and stir, crawled over the logs, moseyed down to the water’s edge and swam off into the Salish Sea. A number of brand new volunteers were given experience educating the public about harbor seal biology and behavior. Thanks to all the fantastic volunteers who allowed Junior time to rest and warm up!

Through photo id, this pup has been positively identified as the same one at Brace Point the evening before.

Share the Shore banners installed along Alki Beach

Seattle Parks employees Dan and Rudy (shown here) installed Seal Sitters’ Share the Shore banners on street poles along Alki Beach on Wednesday. The banners are the result of an in-kind Department of Neighborhoods grant we secured in 2011. Read more about the banners and artist here.

The banners serve as a reminder that September and October are the height of harbor seal pupping season in South Puget Sound - and that it is not uncommon to encounter a resting pup on the beach.

The 10 banners are the culmination of a Seal Sitters’ educational outreach project that included the installation of informational signage about seals and seal pups in locations across West Seattle in 2010 and 2011. NOAA has extended that beach signage across the region. Read more here.

Huge thanks to Seattle Parks for hanging the banners and helping to make this project possible. And thanks to volunteers David and Larry for coordinating the installation.

Snoozing pup makes #10 of the season

Early yesterday morning the hotline rang with a report of a sleeping seal pup on a public access beach between private properties. Seal Sitters taped off the path leading down to the beach and volunteers answered questions from passersby, who could see the pup from the street sidewalk above. That is, they could see the pup after our volunteer pointed him out. His (or her) pebbled coat blended in perfectly with the rocks and pebbles on the beach. This camouflage is very effective in fooling predators, but also can fool people who might be strolling the shore and accidentally scare him - or worse, injure him. Can you spot the pup in the above photo?

The pup was nicknamed Blue by the family who discovered him snoozing below their condo. Blue was a bit skinny, like most of the pups we are seeing, but rested until the high tide lapped over him and then swam out into Puget Sound. For a short time, he continued to rest in the water off shore, “bottling” with his little nose above the surface.

Blue is the 10th pup we have looked after since August and our busiest time for pups is still ahead of us. Usually in September and October Seal Sitters will have more than one pup at the same time in multiple locations around West Seattle. So, heads up! That “rock” or “log” on the beach may be a small seal pup. Like most young animals (and kids), when they are tired, they really zonk out and are very vulnerable.

Pup makes waves at Lincoln Park

Youngsters Audrey and Chase were walking with their parents at Lincoln Park today when they noticed a seal pup sleeping on shore. They promptly called Seal Sitters’ hotline and our volunteers swiftly moved into action. Our responder found the pup at the tideline just north of Colman Pool and quickly established a tape perimeter utilizing cones, stakes and driftwood. The pup, nicknamed Chester by Chase, is most likely weaned and had reasonably good body weight, though he was by no means as fat as a pup still nursing on a mom’s rich, fatty milk.

Volunteers explained to concerned observer that this was perfectly normal behavior for a seal pup to be alone on the beach - and that no, he did not need to be put back into the water. Despite a steady flow of onlookers, Chester managed to have a good rest for a couple of hours. That is, until a series of huge waves crashed over him and he returned to the Sound. Onlookers and volunteers were baffled at the source of the waves since there was no freighter or ferry in sight.

Honeysuckle the rehabbed pup's surprising travels

Honeysuckle was an abandoned harbor seal pup rescued by the Whatcom Marine Mammal Stranding Network on Lummi Island and rehabbed at Wolf Hollow on San Juan Island. SeaDoc Society fitted her with a satellite tag before her release so that her movements could be tracked and provide data to researchers. Her travels surprised everyone. Watch the video here. You can follow Honeysuckle’s travels on SeaDoc Society’s dedicated webpage.

Seal Sitters’ seal pup Sandy was also fitted with a satellite tag early this year. Her story did not have such a happy ending and she was found dead, entangled in derelict fishing line off the Edmonds pier. Read Sandy’s story here.
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