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Erroneous news media report of "shot" seal in Ballard

A report yesterday by at least one local news station regarding a seal that had been “shot” at Ballard’s Golden Gardens is erroneous. The station revised the report on their website this morning, saying the seal had been “decapitated” (meaning head cut off). Both reports are incorrect. NOAA would like to stress that there is no evidence whatsoever to support any theory that there was human involvement in the death of this animal. No samples were “collected for investigation” as reported. It is truly unfortunate that this story was aired and published without substantiation by the marine mammal stranding network and has caused undue concern and outrage in the community.

The dead seal is significantly decomposed and most certainly is not the same seal a witness says he saw “playing” on the beach the day before. Many of the dead seals and sea lions that NOAA’s NW Marine Mammal Stranding Networks respond to are in a similarly decomposed state, missing part or all of a head. It is not unusual for the head to become detached - tissue deteriorates and vertebrae snap as the carcass is battered against rocks, logs, debris and ebb and flow of water at the tideline.

Additionally, dead animals are nibbled on by crabs, birds and other scavengers. Damage by birds often looks to the layperson like bullet entry wounds - a smooth, circular area out of the fur.

It is extremely difficult for expert biologists, much less laypersons, to determine if a marine mammal has been shot. Even a suspicious entry wound does not always yield a bullet upon necropsy exam. Biologists look for bullet tracks through hemorrhaged tissue. Often, a radiograph is required to reveal bone fragmentation caused by a bullet.

The animal will not be necropsied due to the decomposition and no evidence of unusual circumstances. Because of an outcry from the public based on this false report, the carcass is being removed from the beach by network volunteers. NOAA and the stranding networks would like to assure the public that there is no cause for alarm in this case.

UPDATE 5:04 pm
Volunteers from Sno-King Marine Mammal Response (the stranding network that responds to beaches of downtown Seattle waterfront, Ballard, Discovery Park, and north to Marysville) removed the seal carcass from the beach this afternoon. In most cases, an animal which is not a candidate for necropsy is identification-marked with a non toxic paint and allowed to return to Puget Sound to nourish other marine life.

To find contact information for the marine mammal stranding network in your area (including Oregon), please click here.
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