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Fishing gear - and feeding - a grave danger for seal pups

Yesterday afternoon, we received the necropsy report from WDFW-MMI on seal pup Solo. The very small pup was rescued from Don Armeni Boat Launch Tuesday night, but was euthanized Wednesday at PAWS Wildlife Center. The necropsy revealed that Solo’s right eye had been punctured, most likely from a fish hook, which had caused a significant infection inside the pup’s head. Other potential causes could be a bite from a dog or other seal, but there would have been evidence of other wounds or bruising of tissue around the eye socket - and there was none. It’s estimated the wound was inflicted about 5 days prior.

Since the area around the boat ramp is frequented by fishermen casting from both shore and the fishing piers, this would seem a very probable cause. One morning, much to the distress of one of our volunteers, a fisherman insisted on casting out among seal pups who were foraging close to shore. West Seattle is a daily destination for many fishermen who can be seen all along the shoreline from Jack Block Park to Lincoln Park.

Some fishermen will toss bait to seals thinking it will keep them satisfied and less inclined to steal their bait or catch. This is far from the truth. A seal that has been fed will actually seek out humans because it learns to associate humans with easy meals and, consequently, become conditioned to not hunt on his own. Pups learn to be attracted to fishing piers and docks and they will sometimes steal from a fishing line. Needless to say, that does not endear them to some fishermen who may even retaliate. It is dangerous on so many levels. Seals can swallow deadly lures or become entangled in derelict line. Encouraging pups to hang out in these areas can often have disastrous results - as it apparently did for Solo.

If you’re fishing in an area and a seal is hanging out, take a break and the seal will most likely move on. Please use barbless hooks to reduce the chance of harming them. Make sure all derelict line and gear is removed from beaches and piers.

Unfortunately, sometimes people purchase bait at local shops not for fishing purposes, but to feed seals from docks and piers. This can be dangerous not only for seals and sea lions, but for those feeding them. In Victoria, BC, a young child was pulled into the water as her father cleaned fish on a dock popular for feeding seals. Several locations in Victoria promote seal feeding as an attraction. The outer coast of Washington has several marinas where sea lions have become a nuisance because people feed them. Because they associate people with fish, the sea lions have actually ripped fish from people walking along the dock. An Everett, WA, boat launch has a similar problem with harbor seals. It is only a matter of time before someone is hurt - and, of course, the seals and sea lions will unfairly bear the blame and punishment. Fish should be cleaned at designated cleaning stations - not on the docks - and scraps should be discarded. DO NOT FEED MARINE MAMMALS. Not only is it illegal - you are putting them and others at risk.

Solo was a very tiny male pup, measuring only 71 cm (90 cm is average length of a newly weaned pup). It is thought that he was most likely a lanugo pup, born prematurely. Even if her pup is born early, a seal mom will still only nurse for 4-6 weeks. After that, she needs to replenish her own fat stores.

Don't touch seal pups! Rash of illegal pickups endanger pups

Sadly, here have been 5 illegal pickup cases the past week in Puget Sound involving very young harbor seal pups. Of these, one pup was reunited with mom, two died and two are in rehab. All cases are being investigated by NOAA’s Office for Law Enforcement.

It is against Federal law, the Marine Mammal Protection Act, to touch, feed or move a seal pup. Violations are subject to stiff fines and can include jail time, depending on the severity of the crime.

One of the most common wrong assumptions that people make is thinking that a pup needs to be in the water, not on shore. Pups haul out to rest and warm up from our very frigid Northwest waters. Never return a pup to the water. They need to rest - on beaches, log booms, docks - even, occasionally, passing kayaks and paddle boards. Never cover a pup with a blanket - they can overheat and suffer brain damage.

During pupping season (June - September in South Puget Sound), it’s not unusual for a pup to suckle rocks or logs when mom isn’t around. The newborn pup shown here, with a long, white lanugo coat usually shed in the womb, was suckling on rocks and calling for mom, who returned to tend to her offspring. A newborn will still have a bit of the umbilicus cord protruding. It is not an “injury” as many people think and usually falls off after a week or so. If you see a pup you are concerned about, call the stranding network - don’t touch or try to feed the pup.

Share the shore. If you see a seal pup, stay back - 100 yards whenever possible. The best chance a pup has for survival is to stay in the wild, undisturbed by humans. If a pup is under 4-6 weeks old and is alone on the beach, almost always mom is nearby. If she sees people or dogs (a significant danger) too close, she may well abandon the pup who cannot survive without her. A pup taken to rehab does not have nearly the chance to make it back in the wild as a pup who remains there with mom, learning how to forage and gaining immunity from disease while nursing on her rich milk. Even then, pups have a 50% mortality rate their first year.

Never take a pup from the beach. Only members of NOAA’s Marine Mammal Stranding Network or NOAA authorized personnel can transport a marine mammal. A pup taken illegally from the beach to a wildlife facility, by law cannot be treated until approved by NOAA. While you may think you are saving a pup, instead you are gravely endangering him. Being removed from the beach, handled and put into a car can cause life threatening stress. Please don’t disturb resting seal pups. If you are concerned about the health of an animal or if there is harassment by people or dogs, call the NOAA hotline @ 800- 853-1964 or the Seal Sitters hotline @ 206-905-7325 (SEAL) and we will direct you to the proper standing network for response.

Be on the alert for newborn: pupping season has begun in area

It is official: harbor seal pupping season is now underway in the inside waters of South Puget Sound. A lanugo pup was reported in the Gig Harbor area, but sadly had to be euthanized today. The long, wavy white lanugo coat is usually shed in the womb and indicates a premature birth. It is not known whether the presence of so many people around this pup caused abandonment by the mom or if there was another cause. Please remember to STAY AWAY from any pup resting on shore, keep dogs leashed at all times on or near the beach and call the stranding network for the area. Click the links for a map of stranding networks in the Pacific Northwest: Washington map | Oregon map

Yesterday afternoon Seal Sitters responded to a report from a kayaker of a woman harassing a seal at Constellation Park. He warned the woman, who was trying to force the seal back into the water, to stop and get back. Our responder was on the scene within minutes, finding an adult seal alone at the water’s edge. It was obvious that the seal had serious health issues. Shortly after consulting by phone with WA Department of Fish and Wildlife’s marine mammal biologist, the female seal died. Volunteers carried the 125 lb body across the long stretch of beach up into the woody debris. Since the biologist would not be able to pick the animal up for necropsy until this morning, the seal was packed in ice and volunteers built a small shelter of wood to keep the blistering sun at bay.

The seal was picked up this morning and taken for necropsy by WDFW. This evening we received the sad news from biologist Dyanna Lambourn that the small female, estimated to be around 4-6 years old, was postpartum, having given birth about two days ago. The cause of death was undetermined, however, she had an infected uterus. Sterile brain tissue samples were sent to Washington DC for tests.

It is conceivable the female gave birth somewhere in West Seattle or nearby. We are asking all waterfront property owners and those who walk along the beach to please be on the alert for a newborn pup. A pup can live for about a week and a half without nourishment from the mother. Call Seal Sitters hotline @ 206-905-7325 (SEAL) immediately if you see any marine mammal, dead or alive, on shore.

We still have a number of last year’s pups, now close to a year old and called yearlings, using Lincoln Park and the Alki platforms (including one very chubby one at Constellation Park on Sunday), so a pup you see may not necessarily be a newborn or recently weaned pup from this 2013 season. Please, however, call us asap regarding any pups you see on the beach, staying well back to avoid stressing out the animal or scaring him back into the water.

NOTE: We heard reports (unfortunately too late) of a mom and pup at Lincoln Park on Sunday. If you were one of the many folks who were taking photos, please email us so we can verify if it was truly a mother with a newborn pup and, if so, to identify them.

ALERT: Seal pupping season underway on the outer coast

Harbor seal pupping season is currently underway along the coast of Washington and Oregon. Pups are born a bit earlier in Oregon than in Washington; however, we have reports that several pups have already been born along our southern Washington coast. Shown at right is a seal pup with a lanugo coat (wavy white fur usually shed in the womb) and a remnant of the umbilicus cord. This is a reminder to be alert if you are strolling along ocean beaches. If you come across a pup, please stay back and observe quietly from a distance.

It is normal for a seal pup to be alone on the beach. Occasionally a mother harbor seal will leave her pup to rest while she forages for food, returning to nurse him. If there are people and dogs too close, she may abandon the pup. Most times, however, the pup will accompany mom to learn how to forage. Once pups are weaned at 4-6 weeks, they will be all on their own, using shoreline daily to rest and warm up before returning to the water. Seals of all ages rest on shore about 50% of their day. Undisturbed, stress-free rest is crucial to their survival.

Seal pupping season begins in South Puget Sound in late-June, extending into September. As pups are weaned in our area rookeries, they venture off to surrounding areas. West Seattle’s busiest months for newly weaned seal pups are September and October. For a map showing pupping seasons in the various regions of Washington state, click here.

Click the links for a map of stranding networks in the Pacific Northwest: Washington map | Oregon map

Seal pup births in South Puget Sound - season officially underway

We’re excited to report that harbor seal pupping season is now officially underway in South Puget Sound rookeries with the birth of 4 pups as of yesterday. Washington Dept of Fish and Wildlife has installed a “seal cam” at one of the island rookeries. You can observe life in a rookery real time - and you might even get lucky enough to witness a birth!

There was also a report of a partial lanugo pup on the beach in Edmonds. A lanugo coat, long and fluffy white fur, is usually shed in the womb of the mother seal. Sometimes, though, when a pup is born a bit prematurely, the coat will still be on the newborn. This coat is quickly shed and replaced by a new coat. Sadly, a lanugo pup has less chance of survival than a full-term pup. A pup’s best chance is with an attentive mom, nursing on her rich (50% fat) milk. If you come upon a seal pup, please stay back and notify the stranding network. Most likely mom is around, but volunteers will monitor the pup and keep him safe from people and dogs.

Make sure you check the blog frequently for “pupdates”. News on the beach should start picking up soon, after a welcome break from our very busy off-season with many weaned pups sticking around West Seattle. Seal Sitters will be assimilating new volunteers during the season by offering a few smaller scale training sessions, on the beach and in meet-ups. If you are interested in volunteering, please email us.

Pupdate: where the heck are they?

Many of our new volunteers as well as the public are probably wondering where the seal pups are and why we haven’t seen any yet in West Seattle. This is prime time for pups to be born in the rookeries, so a little bit early still for pups to hit our shores. Most seasons, pups have begun to arrive mid-August. This year, however, the south end of Puget Sound has already had many reports of pups on shore and too many cases of human interference. Many of the pups have been born prematurely like the lanugo pup shown here.

Since both pups and adult seals follow the food source it is hard to say when they might arrive. They could fool us and be a little early this year based on so much activity in the south end. So, keep your binoculars handy when you’re out walking the beaches. And don’t forget to give Seal Sitters’ dispatch a call if you spot a pup.

Pupping season has begun - don't touch seal pups!

Our seal pup birthing season has begun in South and Central Puget Sound. Typically, pups born in the rookeries won’t visit our urban Seattle shores for about a month or so. However, there have already been premature and full-term pups on beaches from Everett to Tacoma. Sadly, there have also been illegal pickups of some of those pups. A premature pup is often distinguished by a long, white lanugo coat that is usually shed inside the womb. A premature pup already has a reduced chance of surviving - one that is diminished even more if people interfere. Please spread the word that it is against the law to pick up a seal pup. Their best chance to survive is with their mom. Do not move them! If you see a pup alone on the beach, call the NOAA Stranding Hotline 1-800-853-1964 or (in West Seattle) Seal Sitters 206-905-SEAL (7325).
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