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Wiser pups choose safer haulouts

     
Volunteers are still observing and protecting pups in West Seattle, but sometimes in less trafficked locations. Weaned pups, now older and a bit more wary of strangers, often choose safer spots to haul out and, of late, we have responded to a number of reports of pups on private beaches. The morning following Abe’s brush with an off leash dog, he was found resting on a private beach north of Lincoln Park. Later that afternoon, he showed up back at the Park for a snooze, returning to the Sound as the sun set (photo right). Abe was observed over the next few days on private beaches, but was last seen Wednesday at Lincoln Park where he spent over 12 hours on the beach and was looking a bit too thin.

New pup Joy spent Friday in the rain on a private beach south of Alki, while another pup slept safely on a platform offshore. Homeowners kept a watchful eye on the pup until she returned to the Sound late in the afternoon. We have responded to reports of two additional pups hauling out on private beaches stretching as far south as Brace Point, where many homeowners have voiced concerns about off leash dogs.

     
Spanky (left) continues to amuse everyone almost daily with his balancing act on the rocks below the seawall. A craggy rock with its easy getaway into the surf is a more attractive resting spot for an older pup than a beach crowded with people. Onlookers remain respectful of the need to stay back from the wall so that he can relax and not feel threatened. Spanky appears to be having great success foraging, producing a good blubber layer to keep him warm in the frigid waters of Puget Sound. Spanky’s long whiskers, called vibrasse, help him find food in the dark water and at night by sensing the vibration and movement of prey. One recent scientific study reveals that seals may not only be able to detect fish up to 600 feet away using solely their whiskers, but also the size and shape of prey. Researcher Wolf Hanke says, “This strongly suggests that the seal can sense different species of fish. If the seal can avoid tracking fish that are too small or too big, this saves energy” (NY Times). Each highly sensitive whisker (seals have 40-50 on each side of their snout) has up to 1500 nerves at the base. The research shows that a harbor seal’s whiskers are as efficient at detecting fish as echolocating dolphins.

Off leash dog scares Abe at Lincoln Park

     
Seal pup Abe returned again today to Lincoln Park for a rest, but narrowly escaped an off leash dog in what could have been a tragic incident. The hotline received a call this morning that a pup was on the beach. Our responder found an alert Abe at the water’s edge with a small crowd quietly observing from a reasonable distance. The responder quickly established a tape perimeter around him, but due to walking path issues people were still allowed far closer than the ideal. Abe became more relaxed and settled in for a quick nap, but as the tide came in he moved closer towards the walk and captivated onlookers. Still, people were very respectful of his need to rest and Abe slept for several hours nestled behind a log. However, one of our volunteers noticed a man and off leash dog approaching the area close to the beach; she asked him to please leash his dog as there was a seal pup resting on shore. Unfortunately, he did not. Suddenly, from the grass above, his black lab got a whiff of the unsuspecting seal pup and bolted straight for him. Abe barely managed to escape the dog - who even followed him into the water!

We plead with people over and over to please keep dogs leashed near the beach and to respect the city ordinance that dogs are not allowed on any public beach. A dog’s sense of smell is amazing - and one can just never predict how a dog will react when they discover a seal is on the beach. This is a good example of how a dog owner can overestimate the control they have over their pet and underestimate the pet’s reaction in these situations. The dog owner was apologetic. We were very lucky today that this seal pup was not seriously mauled or killed. Had Abe been ill or trying to heal from an injury, he would not have been able to escape. Abe did not return to shore.

Seal pup Spanky visited his favorite rock again today, but returned to Puget Sound at high tide.

Seal Sitters get a respite today after dawn to dusk days

     
West Seattle volunteers got a much-needed break today after ten straight days of dawn to dusk duties protecting Umbreon, Sly and Spanky as well as new pups, Noche and Abe. Umbreon (at left as darkness fell on Monday evening), who has been a regular visitor to the same small niche of rocks, spent most of today leisurely foraging and swimming a few feet offshore. He is a very dark pup when wet, but has a beautiful gray and white tweed coat when dry and distinct white markings around the eyes. Umbreon continues to be of good body weight and very alert to his surroundings and potential dangers. Most weaned pups become more wary of people as they get older and are more easily scared off than a young, unsuspecting pup.

Sly, who had been looking too thin and spending more and more hours on shore, finally returned to Elliott Bay early Tuesday morning. Since that time, he has not been observed on his favorite haulout rock. We’re hoping that his many hours of rest has given him the strength to forage and pack on some desperately needed pounds. A small white pup who could be Sly has been observed along with several other pups fishing and lingering in the waters nearby. As pups are weaned and become thinner, their immune system is suppressed, making them vulnerable to parasites and viruses. Small fish seem to be plentiful now around West Seattle and Sly could use a second trip through the buffet line.

     
Spanky, too, has chosen the relative safety of a rocky stretch of beach, but on the west side. While less accessible to direct threat by humans and dogs, his rest is most definitely disrupted when people get too close on the seawall above him. By definition, a violation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act includes any human disturbance which alters the behavior of a marine mammal. It’s important that we do our part to not disrupt pups whenever possible - sometimes a difficult endeavor when you have a crowd of people who are so enthusiastic at the very sight! Spanky has great body weight and appears to be thriving. Like most pups, he has a few nicks and abrasions, but nothing that appears of concern. He enchanted onlookers late Sunday afternoon as he perched on the tip of a rock surrounded by the brilliant blue water of Puget Sound. Eventually, a series of large swells swept Spanky off his roost (see video clip). Spanky has been one of our regulars and made a brief appearance today.

We have two additional newcomers: Noche who spent the evening on the south end of Alki Beach Sunday (our fourth pup onshore that day) and Abe who came ashore at Lincoln Park on Tuesday. This is one crazy pup season we are having this year - and the volunteers are loving it!
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