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Pupping season hits West Seattle with two seal pups in two days

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Seal Sitters’ hotline has been busy the last two days with reports of pups on the beach. Last evening we received a call from two of our newest volunteers who came upon a pup at Alki near the Statue of Liberty. When responders arrived minutes later, the alert pup was nestled behind a log with curious people too close. The crowd was asked to step back to allow him to settle in and rest.



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Volunteers such as Dave (at right) talked at length to passersby. Terrianne, on her first day of duty as a Seal Sitter, named the active pup Perky. Perky settled in for a long nap as the sun set and spent a quiet night within the perimeter. He was sound asleep this morning at 5:39am and returned to the Sound about 6:45. Perky had good body weight and appears to be recently weaned.

This afternoon the hotline rang with a call about a pup on the steps at Emma Schmitz Viewpoint Park. Thanks to reporting party Melissa for protecting the pup until we arrived. The thin pup was on the bottom step with the tide lapping against her and returned briefly to the Sound, only to emerge moments later on a very small stretch of beach right next to two young people. Quickly gathering up their belongings, they left the beach to give the pup some much-needed space. Photos of the yawning pup revealed fully erupted teeth, indicating she is no longer nursing on mom’s rich milk.

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Despite the yellow tape perimeter and signs clearing posting that a seal pup was resting on the beach, the tape was breached. We need to remind people that “harassment” by definition of the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) is not just poking, feeding, or moving animals. ANY disturbance, even waking a pup, is considered a violation of Federal law.

Nicknamed BellaBaby, shown here taking a brief dip in the cool Sound on this hot afternoon, the pup rested until after dark under the protective watch of volunteers. These newly weaned pups need all the help they can get from a respectful public in their struggle to survive without mom. Stress-free rest is critical.

PUPDATE (8/20/13 7:31am)
BellaBaby was still resting on the beach this morning as the tide was receding. She may well spend several more hours there, gaining strength before returning to forage and, hopefully, pack on some much-needed blubber.

Boat harassment endangers life of newborn seal pup - stay back!

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Seal Sitters’ first harbor seal pup of the season was sighted on Thursday afternoon. A number of children peered through Seal Sitters’ spotting scope aimed at an offshore platform far down the beach. Nicknamed Sparkle by 5 1/2 year old Aubrey visiting with her Tumwater day camp, the very tiny pup was observed trying to suckle on three different adults and a yearling who were resting on the raft. The pup was calling “maaaaaaaaaa”. We were not certain if one of the adults was indeed the pup’s mom - and still are not.

What we’re certain of now, however, is that the pup is between 4-10 days old. Based on our photo obtained yesterday, showing a shred of umbilicus still attached, WDFW’s marine mammal biologist estimated the age is closer to 4 days. Because of the high disturbance yesterday of racing outrigger canoes and boat traffic, the adults quickly abandoned the platform yesterday morning, leaving newborn Sparkle and a larger yearling as the sole occupants. The adults never returned and as of late last night, the platform was empty.

        mmpa-violation8_03_13Throughout the day, a steady stream of kayakers and boaters came way too close to the platform, some within only a few yards - harassment in the eyes of NOAA Office for Law Enforcement (OLE) and a violation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Stay back from all resting seals, whether on rafts, docks, buoys or shore. Incidents (such as the one shown of two kayakers) are being documented and photographic evidence of violations will be sent to OLE for investigation. Violations are punishable by fine and severe violations are punishable by jail time. Read more about boater guidelines here.

What’s all the fuss? Adult harbor seals have learned of the dangers of humans and dogs and are very wary of disturbance. If there is too much activity around a mom’s pup, she may flee the area and abandon him. Because of the constant activity around the platform, this tiny pup who cannot survive on his own, may have been given a death sentence by boaters who insisted on coming too close - potentially permanently scaring the mom away. Human interference has dire consequences for seal pups, often resulting in death.

We want the seals to be able to depend on use of this lone platform (until recently, there were two more providing sanctuary at this location) to rest and regulate their body temperature. Undisrupted, stress-free rest is critical to their survival. If they are chased from this safe refuge, they must turn to the beach - with the dangers of off leash dogs and unwitting beach-goers. This tiny pup would be helpless alone on the beach without a mother’s protection. Please respect seals’ space and stay back 100 yards whenever possible. This also includes people observing the platform from shore - please watch from a distance and not directly across from the seals which causes undue stress. If you’d like information on building an off shore platform to help wildlife survive, please contact us.

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

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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.

Sea lion harassment will be reported to NOAA law enforcement

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Fair warning to all recreational boaters, including kayakers:
Any harassment of the sea lions resting on the Elliott Bay buoys is being photographed and sent to NOAA’s Office for Law Enforcement. The Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) prohibits harassment of marine mammals. Stay 100 yards away from any marine mammal resting on shore, buoys, or in the water. It is against Federal Law for boaters to be as close as shown above, taken yesterday afternoon.

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Currently among the male California sea lions (CSL) who regularly use the mid-channel buoys to rest and warm up is more than one Steller sea lion. The Steller species is divided into two stocks: the Eastern Steller stock, seen in the Pacific Northwest, is a “threatened” species and the Western stock further north is “endangered”. The boistrerous group jostling on the Elliott Bay buoy includes a huge Steller bull, estimated to be approximately 9 feet in length and weighing upwards of a ton, significantly larger than CSL males. You can see the distinct size and fur coloration difference in this photo. It is extremely dangerous for a kayaker to approach a potentially aggressive bull. This large and, most likely, irritated animal could leap from the buoy and injure someone.

A highlight to any day in West Seattle is to get out on the water and enjoy wildlife. If you don’t have a boat or kayak, you can rent one at Alki Kayak Tours. Please comply with the MMPA as you enjoy your boating activities and observe these majestic animals from a respectful distance. This also includes resting seal pups along our shoreline. Resist the temptation to get close. All pinnipeds require time out of the water to rest and regulate their body temperature - it is critical to their health and survival.

If you see a violation and are able to take a photo, try to get a boat license number if at all possible and email photos to us. We will forward to Office for Law Enforcement.

Offshore rafts save seal pup lives - keep your distance

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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.

Respect harbor seal haulouts - it's life and death for seal pups

Boaters, kayakers and jet skiers: Please be aware that locations where harbor seals gather are sensitive and vital areas - and disturbances to seal colonies can be devastating for newborn pups. Many Puget Sound islands have state parks with seal haul outs, where the animals gather in numbers to rest and, this time of year, give birth and nurse their young. Adult harbor seals are extremely skittish and the slightest disturbance can cause a stampede into the water, often leaving vulnerable pups alone on shore. If people land watercraft or swim or picnic close to a pup, the mom may well abandon him. On a state park island last year, WDFW Marine Mammal Investigations’ biologist found a group of picnickers surrounding a pup and was told they were “waiting for the mom to return.” It is no surprise that the mom never did.

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This week, our lead responder accompanied that biologist on observations of South Puget Sound harbor seal rookeries. Responding to a report of a dead seal pup on that same small island with a known seal colony and a history of conflict with recreational boaters, we found two dead pups as well as three that were emaciated and weak, but alive - and several boats and a number of people way too close. We were told that just before we arrived a man tried to put one of the pups back into the water (one of many instances, we are sure). There is no chance a mom will return to take care of her pup under these circumstances. At right is a photo which shows the tiny island on a typical August day - a virtual flotilla of boats and people (click on the Google Earth photo to enlarge). There are reports of 100 boats at this island on a weekend.

     
This video shows seals fleeing from a nearby South Puget Sound rookery - as an eagle lands near them. You can imagine their terror when a boat lands on their beach.

Enforcing the Marine Mammal Protection Act in remote areas is challenging. Park rangers are few and far between and access to respond to islands is especially difficult. Signs that are posted are either torn down or graffitied beyond recognition. It appears that too many humans feel that their “right” to be in nature supersedes animals’ rights to survive in their daily life and death struggle. We are dependent upon the public to spread the word that no matter where you are, if you encounter a marine mammal on the beach, you are to stay 100 yards away. If someone is harassing a pup on the beach, call Seal Sitters’ hotline @ 206-905-7325 (SEAL) immediately and we will contact the proper authorities. Take a discreet photo of a boat showing license number - NOAA Office for Law Enforcement has a better chance of prosecution with physical evidence. Do not put yourself in harm’s way. If you find a pup that appears to be abandoned, keep your distance and call the hotline.

Human interference a serious threat to seal pups

Seal Sitters has responded to two incidents the past few days involving human interference in the Everett area, both by well-meaning but misguided folks. Never pour water or place clothing or towels over seal pups. Material placed over a struggling pup can cause severe health consequences from over-heating. It is a federal offense to touch, move or feed a marine mammal as written into the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972. Keep your distance from a seal pup or seal on the beach and call the stranding network or NOAA Hotline. Violators will be prosecuted or heavily fined by NOAA’s Office for Law Enforcement.

     
In West Seattle over the past few days, we had two incidents of off leash dogs with owners who flagrantly violated the “no dogs on beach” ordinance - with the knowledge that there was a seal pup on the beach. In the case yesterday, a woman running on the beach refused to control and leash her dog, even after being informed that we had a very small pup on the rocks. As they ran by, seal pup Henry was scared and fell deep into a hole in the rocks, distressed and apparently stuck. As our volunteers scrambled to assess how to intervene for a rescue if necessary, Henry managed to free himself and crawl out onto the beach. Our volunteers remained on the beach to prevent any further incidents. Every year dogs maul or kill seal pups in the Northwest. All persons willfully violating the MMPA will be reported to NOAA Office for Law Enforcement. A violation includes an act by a human that in any way alters the behavior of a marine mammal - including causing them to relocate. Seal Sitters tries our best to maintain a reasonable perimeter so that a pup may rest undisturbed in a very urban environment. Please be respectful of seals’ need to rest onshore!

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