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rehabilitation

It takes a village to protect urban seal pups

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Early Saturday morning, Seal Sitters MMSN volunteers David and Eilene drove through the Don Armeni public boat launch on their way home from downtown Seattle. First responders, on and off duty, routinely look for pups in dangerous locations, such as the ramp, where pups often come ashore to rest. Sure enough, a pup was sleeping on the sand covered cement, vulnerable not only to curious people, but much more worrisome, offleash dogs and boat traffic.

David quickly grabbed barricades and tape stashed at the location and established a perimeter to protect the pup in one of three lanes available for vessel launch and retrieval. Thankfully, in this boating off-season and cold rain, no boats were present.

Other first responders were on the scene in minutes to lend a hand. Scheduler for the day, Lynn J, was notified and she quickly referred to our online calendar and began calling volunteers. An iPhone was used to send out an APB “seal on the beach now” to all volunteers.

In 2-hour shifts, volunteers watched over the pup throughout the day in a cold, often drenching, rain. Nicknamed Penny (shown here moving closer to the sea wall, away from breaking waves), the somewhat thin pup showed no overt signs of illness, but lack of interest in people and nearby barking dogs was definitely a concern. A pup estimated to be anywhere from 6-8 months old should be much more wary of disturbance. However, there were no coughing spells or discharge from the nose or mouth - signs of parasite and viral load. Due to the physical constraints of the location with a parking lot and need to keep boat access open on the remaining ramps, the public was allowed closer than the ideal. The few boat owners that launched during the day were extremely cooperative and happy to give a resting pup some space.

Volunteers spoke with passersby who struggled to discern the shape of the pup on land even though they were just yards away. From the back, Penny looked like a dark rock. From the front, covered in sand and crushed shells, she blended into the shore. The spotted coat provides seals excellent camouflage from predators - or an inquisitive public. Dogs, however, with their keen sense of smell are easily able to seek out a pup - all the more reason to keep dogs leashed near beaches and well away from vulnerable young seals.

After dark, in the bitter cold 37 degree weather, volunteers continued to check on the pup during the night. Plans were put into place to capture the pup in the early morning hours for transport to rehab if the pup was still on shore. It is not unusual for a pup to spend well over 12 hours on shore, but something definitely seemed amiss for this increasingly listless pup. NOAA requests that no intervention occur until a pup has been onshore a minimum of 24 hours unless circumstances are unique - such as human interference - since there is a 50% mortality in the wild and there are extremely limited resources for rehabilitation in the Puget Sound region.

At high tide, around 1:30 am, Penny was no longer at the ramp. Volunteer Buzz located the pup at 2am, sleeping on the sand at nearby Duwamish Head, and put up a tape perimeter to prevent people from walking down the stairs to the beach. At 5:30 am, it was clear the pup was in distress and a first responder team assembled at 7am’s first light to capture the pup only a few feet from the approaching tide. The largely unresponsive pup was taken to PAWS Wildlife Center for stabilization and treatment, but died upon arrival.

A necropsy will be performed by PAWS’ vet to determine cause of death. We will share the results as soon as we receive word. Thanks to our many amazing volunteers who helped give Penny some peace on the beach. And thanks as always to PAWS’ caring staff. A very sad day for all of us.

Moonshadow loses battle to survive

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We are terribly sad to report that Moonshadow died at PAWS Wildlife Center in Lynnwood on Friday, November 29th. The pup was rescued from the beach at Duwamish Head (Anchor Park) early Thanksgiving morning and transported for stabilization and treatment.

Seal Sitters’ first responders and volunteers had observed Moonshadow over the course of a week as he came ashore almost every evening at dark and returned to the Sound near sunrise. On Sunday, he spent an uncharacteristic 22 hours on the beach which raised concern. The next day, however, Moonshadow returned to his behavior of 12-14 or so hours on shore. Still, it was evident that the pup was having some health issues, though he was not exhibiting severe symptoms such as prolonged coughing. On Wednesday morning the pup remained on the beach at daylight, but was at the tide line and capture was too risky. Responders had to be assured that we could successfully capture Moonshadow - if we were not successful, the frightened pup would most likely abandon this relatively safe haul-out site (a small beach with only one public entrance, blocked off with Protected Marine Mammal tape to deter access). Because of PAWS shortened winter hours, a capture could not be performed after dark. Early Thanksgiving morning, the sleeping pup had blood from the nose and the conditions were ripe for capture. First responders swiftly swept up the pup and transported him to PAWS.

Moonshadow weighed 11.7 kg on intake Thanksgiving morning - certainly thin, but not as thin as most of the pups we have protected this year. He did exhibit discharge from the nose and mouth. The pup died overnight.

NECROPSY FINDINGS
Heartfelt thanks to PAWS’ staff and Dr. Bethany Groves for performing the necropsy in hopes to determine cause of death. The necropsy revealed that his airways were “jam-packed” with adult lungworms and the pup had parasite-related nodules throughout his lungs. Additionally, Moonshadow had pneumonia, likely due to the parasitic infestation. This infection is likely the cause of death. The pup also had a large number of roundworms in his stomach, but no food. Medical treatment to kill off such a high worm load can be extremely dangerous in itself to a weak pup. All weaned pups have some level of parasite load this time of year, but those with weakened immune systems are often not strong enough to keep opportunistic parasites and related viruses at bay - a very sad and hard fact.

Thanks to Seal Sitters’ many dedicated volunteers and a concerned public who allowed Moonshadow to rest undisturbed on this urban beach. Moonshadow’s death reinforces just how vulnerable these seal pups are and how quickly their health can tailspin. Sharing the shore gives them a much better chance to survive.

Seal pup rescued by Seal Sitters returns home to Puget Sound

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Seal pup Snapper, rescued from the beach just south of Constellation Park in early August (shown at right) ,was released back into the wild last week. The extremely emaciated male pup, weighing just over 19 lbs, was taken to PAWS Wildlife Center where he spent months building strength and gaining weight under the care of wildlife rehabbers.


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PAWS reports that a Coast Guard auxiliary crew assisted in releasing the pup, sporting an identification tag on his rear flipper, near Everetty’s Jetty Island, an area with a well established harbor seal haul-out. Snapper is shown here looking back at the boat as he swims off to get a second chance at life.

We are thrilled to report that Snapper weighed a whopping 73 lbs when released - a true blubberball. This fat layer will help sustain the pup as he learns to forage in the huge expanse of Puget Sound. Huge flipper hugs to PAWS’ dedicated and amazing staff and the Coast Guard!

Snapper taken to rehab as options dwindle for struggling pups

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About 8pm Monday evening, hotline operator Sharon answered a call about a seal pup on the beach north of Colman Pool at Lincoln Park. Several concerned folks watched over the pup until our responder could get on site. She found a horribly skinny pup resting soundly near the sea wall. A tape perimeter was quickly established on the path, but before tape could be stretched on the beach a couple approached with their large dog. At our request, they did remove the dog from the beach, but the woman insisted it was a “public beach” and it was her right to continue walking past the pup. After a terse exchange, she did finally detour up onto the walking path.

Yes, this is a Seattle public beach (and, therefore, dogs are NOT allowed), but it is also a beach that wildlife has a right to use, too. This exhausted, emaciated pup desperately needed a place to rest and it is hardly unreasonable to ask someone to go a few yards out of their way to help a wild animal survive. Not to mention, the Marine Mammal Protection Act protects these animals by law. Having already rescued a newborn pup early that morning because of human harassment resulting in abandonment, our responder was in no mood to have this struggling pup harassed as well.

Volunteers watched over the pup until dark, who spent the night on the beach and returned to the Sound about 8am Tuesday (see photo). Later in the day, we received a call from NOAA that a listless pup was at Cormorant Cove. The male pup, nicknamed Snapper and weighing just 8.8 kgs, was taken from the beach to PAWS Wildfife Center and is confirmed by spot identification to be the same Lincoln Park pup.

It is unfortunate to have to report that all of the spaces for rehabilitation are now full - almost all of the seal pups at PAWS had to be taken there because of human interference. This means that there are no options for helping seal pups for possibly up to two months - seal pup rehab is challenging, lengthy and expensive. NOAA wants these few spots reserved for animals that have been victims of human interaction - whether fishing gear injuries, illegal removal from a beach, causing abandonment by a seal mom, etc. If there were fewer cases of human interference, we would have more options to help other emaciated seal pups like Snapper.

STAY AWAY FROM RESTING SEAL PUPS! Yesterday, an abandoned pup had to be relocated from a small island to a nearby harbor seal rookery in hopes another nursing mom will adopt him. When the biologist arrived on Cutts Island, there was a family sun-bathing within feet of the tiny, skinny pup. Is it any wonder mom did not return when this island’s small seal colony is continually harassed by boaters who party within feet of them?

PUPDATE:
8/7/13
Sparkle, the newborn pup abandoned near Alki Beach due to harassment, is stabilized at PAWS and was outside in a pool yesterday morning. Snapper had an infected wound on his flipper (being treated by antibiotics), but thus far his most daunting battle is recovering from being so underweight.

9/9/13
We are so sad to report that Sparkle was euthanized at PAWS on September 9th. Veterinarian Dr. John Huckabee believes Sparkle’s immune system was not functioning properly, as she struggled the entire time she was there with digestive issues, ear and other infections and a heart murmur.

Seal pups in a daily struggle to survive - please give them space

UPDATE 7/26 3:45pm
The Olympia pup, positively identified, is not in danger, but instead is a healthy-looking
weaned pup exhibiting normal behavior. The report of a “starving...abandoned” pup caused a media flurry and demands of rescue from the public, but the pup in question was observed today sneaking a bit of milk from a female nursing her own offspring. Often, a pup will call out with a plaintive “maaaaaaaa” even after weaning, seeking an easier meal from a female’s nipple than searching for tiny fish in the waters of Puget Sound. This pup should and will stay in the wild - like all pups whenever possible. (note: Adding to confusion, video footage widely shown by one Seattle tv station is of a nursing age pup - not the one originally reported to authorities and photographed by The Olympian)

In the first year of life, a harbor seal pup is in a constant struggle to survive. With a 50% mortality rate in the wild, they must overcome many challenges: disease, infection, predation by shoreline predators or domestic dogs, conditions caused by premature birth, dehydration and starvation. This is, unfortunately, a fact of life - and death.

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The current media coverage and resultant firestorm to rescue a “starving” seal pup in the Olympia area has overlooked some very important points. First of all, the pup is in a protected harbor seal haul-out and rookery. Each year, seals use a log boom in this bay to give birth and nurse their young (photo at left). Yesterday’s seal count at this thriving rookery, including logs just to the south, was 245 seals, of which 75 were pups. And each year at this rookery, between 5 and 20 pups die during pupping season, late June through September. In a nearby rookery, 30-60 pups die. The mortality rate at this rookery may be lower because it is indeed situated on the log boom, and much easier for seals to escape disturbance from eagles and coyotes (and boaters) because they are able to slip off into the water for protection. A number of pups may die and disappear into the water so are unaccounted for. This is the harsh reality of life for wild animals. Not every one survives nor should every one be rescued.

There has been a public outcry that the “abandoned” pup must be taken for rehabilitation. However, this pup is known to have come and gone from the logs into the water multiple times. There are many, many seals nearby. It has been documented in this and other rookeries that females will sometimes adopt an abandoned pup, nursing two at once (they only give birth to one pup). The body weight of this pup suggests that he or she might be sneaking milk from another mom - a female will sometimes relent to a persistent “sneaker”. And the possibility is not entirely ruled out that the pup is being nursed at night.

Rehabilitation is not the answer for all seal pups. First of all, many of them will not survive the stress of being captured and transported by car or truck to an authorized facility hours away. We must weigh many issues before making a decision to remove a pup from the wild. Even if they are rehabilitated and released months later with a dense layer of blubber, that does not ensure they will thrive in the wild. They still have only a 50% chance of survival their first year. A pup that has not been taught to hunt by mom has much less chance to forage successfully. A study by Sea Doc Society revealed that rehabbed pups travel much farther in search of food than wild-weaned pups, wasting precious calories. A human tossing fish into a small pool does not replicate catching fast-swimming fish in expansive waters. Rehabilitation does not guarantee an animal’s survival post release. Additionally, Washington has no major marine mammal rehab facilities. There is extremely limited space for lengthy pup rehabilitation, so each decision to remove an animal from the wild is on a case by case basis taking into account numerous factors. Read NOAA’s policy on harbor seal pup rehabilitation here.

The question has been asked, “What is the harm in helping him?” In reality, there is much harm that can be done. We cannot jeopardize the health of the many pups at this or any rookery in hopes of saving one. This time of year in Puget Sound, pups are being born every single day. If humans intervene and disrupt the normal activity in these areas, other pups may well be abandoned and starve to death. Human disturbance has serious consequences.

Seal Sitters supports the decision not to intervene in this case - and there is the fervent hope that this pup will make it. Sadly, we can’t save all seal pups. And many would argue, it is not our place in nature to do so. It is heartbreaking for any member of the Marine Mammal Stranding Network to have to observe a struggling pup and respect nature’s role. We are passionate about keeping seal populations healthy and thriving - and do everything we can to give pups the space to get stress-free rest, away from human interference. Not every seal pup will survive this pupping season and we all share sadness in that hard fact - but know that there is a reason for this very fragile balance of nature.

Do not take matters into your own hands if you come across a pup - they are protected by Federal law. It is illegal to feed, touch or move a pup. If you break the law and take a pup to a wildlife facility, they cannot legally treat the animal. NOAA’s Office for Law Enforcement will investigate all instances of human interference. Call NOAA’s stranding hotline at 800-853-1964 to report a pup you are concerned about.

Please read NOAA’s most recent Q&A publication “Share the Shore with Harbor Seal Pups” here. The document describes the life processes of harbor seals, what to do if you come across a pup and NOAA’s policy on rehabilitation. Please do “Share the Shore” and observe these magnificent animals quietly from a distance.

Please note: The Olympian newspaper which originally broke the story of a “starving” pup has now updated their website with the news that the pup is indeed a healthy, weaner.

New study reveals seal pups learn foraging skills at early age

SeaDoc Society has just released the findings of a study of 20 satellite tagged weaned harbor seal pups, half of whom were tagged in the wild and half after rehabilitation. The study shows that rehabbed pups travel greater distances than wild pups foraging for food. Read this fascinating story here.

West Seattle stranded seal pup Sandy was satellite tagged and released in late January this year after a lengthy rehab at PAWS. Hundreds of people logged onto SeaDoc’s site and followed her progress and travels around Puget Sound until she was found dead in April, entangled in derelict fishing gear. Her death put a face on the dangers of marine debris and pollution and a beach cleanup was held in her honor. Read about Sandy here.

Rescue of injured seal pup a combined effort of networks

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(see update at end of story)
Yesterday, Seal Sitters’ volunteers met up with a volunteer from Vashon to transport an injured seal pup to PAWS in Lynnwood. Four NW marine mammal stranding networks had been on the lookout for the severely lacerated pup.

On Wednesday evening, our hotline received a report of a pup with a severe cut on a public beach in Des Moines near the marina. The reporting party, Pam, then had to leave the site briefly. Soon after, a team from WDFW Marine Mammal Investigations (Dyanna Lambourn and Josh Oliver) and MaST Stranding Network’s volunteer Mikiko, arrived on the scene, but the pup had vanished. This was quite a baffling mystery since the pup would have had to traverse a 60+ yard distance at low tide to get back to the water in a very short time. The team searched the vast beach in the darkness, but could see no sign of the pup. It is surmised that perhaps someone moved the pup back to the water.

At 6:30 am the next morning, Seal Sitters’ first responder scoured the shoreline as well as the docks at the marina, but again there was no sign of the pup. Late that afternoon, NOAA’s hotline received a call from Wolftown on Vashon (the marine mammal stranding network for the island) that an injured pup was seen on KVI beach. Photos were compared with one from Wednesday night and it was confirmed to be the same pup. It was encouraging that the pup was able to swim across Puget Sound with such an injury, possibly human-caused. Plans were set into motion to try to capture the pup for transport to rehab, but each time Wolftown received a call, the pup was gone when they arrived. Late Sunday afternoon, however, the pup was successfully captured and housed at Wolftown’s facility overnight.

Early Monday morning, Seal Sitters’ volunteers met the 7:55 ferry from Vashon and transferred the dark, spotted pup (nicknamed Freckles by Vashon’s volunteer Debby) to PAWS Wildlife Center (photo above). Seal Sitters received a followup call in the afternoon that Freckles was blind in one eye (most likely due to an old puncture wound) and had a number of lacerations, including the very severe one above the left flipper. Freckles will be x-rayed today and undergo a possible surgery. It could not be determined if the wound was human-caused. The male pup weighed in at 13.6 kg and a length of 81cm.

This is a prime example of how area stranding networks join together - this time to locate, rescue and provide care for a little seal pup. We will keep you posted on Freckles progress as he continues rehabilitation at PAWS.

10/17 4:17 PUPDATE
We are very, very sad to report that Freckles died yesterday. Thanks to everyone who tried so hard to help this beautiful pup.

Mojo the Steller sea lion pup makes it to Alaska rookeries

Mojo, the Steller sea lion pup who was rescued on Washington’s outer coast, rehabbed at Wolf Hollow in the San Juans, and released back to the wild fitted with a satellite tracking device has made it all the way to the Alaska rookeries. A rookery is where sea lions (or seals) gather in large numbers to give birth, nurse their young and mate. Mojo has travelled 1484 km (over 922 miles) since his release on May 29th. Read all about Mojo here.

PUPDATE 7/23
Mojo continues to cruise northward along Alaska’s shoreline. As of yesterday, the satellite picked up his signal near Sitka. It looks like he is thriving in the wild. Soon, however, we will lose contact with him as he molts his fur and the glued-on tag falls off.

Mojo on the move again - sighted in Canada

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Mojo, the Steller sea lion pup rehabilitated and released on the Washington Coast last month, has been sighted and photographed in a Steller haulout off the west coast of Vancouver Island. He was known to have migrated to Canada just a few days after being released because of the signals picked up from his satellite tag. This is the first time he has been seen, however.

A marine mammal biologist (who also volunteers with the British Columbia Marine Mammal Stranding Response Network) was doing routine re-sights of branded animals when she noticed Mojo with his satellite tag on a very busy and popular Steller haulout site, Long Beach Rocks. This is one of a number of haulouts in and adjacent to the Pacific Rim National Park. Long Beach is considered a year round haulout for Stellers. Biologist Wendy Szaniszlo conducted a 3-yr study of the seasonal abundance and distribution of sea lions in the park preserve. Stellers are considered a Species of Special Concern under Canada’s Species at Risk Act. Wendy reports that Mojo was observed in the “middle of the action”, which means he seems to have adapted well to life back in the wild.

You can follow Mojo’s travels on SeaDoc Society’s website and receive almost daily updates on his location. Since this photo was taken, he is on the move once again and headed further north, well beyond Vancouver Island into Queen Charlotte Sound. As you can see from the photo, this is the time of year when sea lions molt their fur. Soon, Mojo’s glued-on tag will fall off as he sheds his old coat and grows a brand new silky one and transmissions will cease. Many thanks to Wendy for sharing this photo! Read more about Mojo’s story here.

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PUPDATE: 7/3/12
A satellite picked up a ping from Mojo’s transmitter yesterday and he has made it to Haida Gwaii (formerly known as the Queen Charlotte Islands), which consists of about 150 islands off the coast of British Columbia. More specifically, his location appears to be Gwaii Hanas National Park Reserve.

Mojo has travelled 962 km (over 598 miles) since released back to the wild on May 29th.






Satellite Sandy cruising the San Juan Islands

The seal pup that Seal Sitters MMSN rescued from the beach in August is now cruising the San Juans. We know this because after a lengthy rehab at PAWS Wildlife Center, Sandy was fitted with a satellite tag and released at a harbor seal haul out south of Tacoma. She has been moving all over the region - Olympia, Shelton, Vashon Island, 3 Tree Point, West Seattle, Richmond Beach and now the northern islands. You can follow Sandy’s lengthy travels on SeaDoc Society’s dedicated webpage and receive email alerts when a satellite picks up her signal. Her movements enable biologists to learn more about seal pup behavior. The glued-on tag will fall off when Sandy sheds her fur coat in a few months.

PUPDATE 3/12
The latest satellite hits show that Sandy has opted to head back south and was pinged at the northeast tip of the Olympic Peninsula. This is a bit of a relief since we wonder if she is able to tell the difference between the vocalizations of the transient orcas who eat seals and that of the residents who prefer salmon. With no mom to have taught her the ins and outs of life in the wild, she is trying to figure things out on her on.

Seal pups galore in West Seattle

     
Seal Sitters MMSN is having our busiest “off season” ever. We have made upwards of 40 responses to dead and live pups since the beginning of the year. We are happy to say the vast majority of those are to live pups. Yesterday, the hotline received a call about a pup at Lincoln Park. Unfortunately, there was no pup on shore when our responder arrived within 20 minutes. The entire length of Lincoln Park was searched. According to the satellite map showing rehabbed and tagged pup Sandy’s travels, she was apparently near that location yesterday. This morning, WDFW’s biologist reports that Sandy is all the way up in the Richmond Beach area. The 6 month old female was fitted with a satellite tag (photo left to right: Josh Oliver WDFW, Kristin Wilkinson NOAA and Dyanna Lambourn WDFW) and released to a South Puget Sound location on January 21st following a long rehab at PAWS. Her travels provide insight into the foraging patterns of rehabilitated pups.

     
Yesterday we also responded to a pup resting on a stretch of private beach. The beautiful dark pup, nicknamed Paddycake (photo right), is the same one that was nearby a few days ago on private beach north of Constellation Park. On that day, Paddycake had been accompanied on the beach by a smaller pup who was scared back into the water by an offleash dog. Please, keep your dog leashed at all times if you insist on taking them (illegally) onto the beach. These weaned seal pups need their rest to survive and dogs pose a danger to them. We have pups still using beaches all over West Seattle.

Sandy the satellite-tagged pup near Vashon Island

     
Sandy, the seal pup rescued from a West Seattle beach last August and released back into the wild after a lengthy rehab on January 27th, is back in our area. She was fitted with a satellite transmitter (glued to her fur that will be shed when she molts) and her movements are being tracked by the SeaDoc Society. The most recent satellite transmissions indicate that Sandy has now travelled all the way from the Olympia and Steilacoom area (where she was released) to the north end of Vashon Island - and is, this morning, near the Port Orchard/Southorth ferry run. She may well end up back in West Seattle!

Keep your eyes peeled for a little seal pup with a yellow transmitter on her back. If you see her, please keep your distance and call our hotline @ 206-905-7325 (SEAL). Her movements are being studied by biologists and will give tremendous insight into the behavior of rehabilitated pups as they try to adapt to life back in the wild. SeaDoc has a web page devoted to Sandy here and you can receive email updates as to her locations and cheer her on. It is very exciting for volunteers and the public to be able to follow Sandy’s progress and see how well she is doing back in the Salish Sea.

Satellite Sandy spreads her wings in the Salish Sea

       
Sandy, the rehabilitated satellite-tagged seal pup, is expanding her horizons in South Puget Sound. After being released near a harbor seal haul out a couple of weeks ago, she stayed pretty close to her new island home. But over the past two days, she has ventured much farther south - to Budd Bay near Olympia, where there is a huge log boom used by seals year-round to rest and, during pupping season, give birth and nurse their young. In fact, it’s such a distance that there was speculation she might have hitched a ride on a passing log boom being towed south by a tugboat. Seals do often hop on log booms as they cruise by, take a snooze and wake up many miles from where they started.

     
Sandy’s beacon tag gives location hits depending on the number of satellites in the area and whether Sandy is on land or underwater when a satellite is near. Based on the most recent data (more detailed than the map shown here), WDFW’s marine mammal biologist was able to determine that it was more likely that she swam to her new location. Dr. Joseph Gaydos from SeaDoc Society says, “We’ve seen other seals (satellite tagged pups) move even greater distances in shorter periods of time. They can ride the current, which as you know can be quite powerful in places. That combined with swimming can really propel them!” The great news is that Sandy is choosing areas that have lots of seals, so she appears to be adapting well to life in the wild.

You can follow Sandy’s travels on SeaDoc’s website. In fact, you can even get an email alert when passing satellites pick up her signal. Check out Sandy’s dedicated page here. And, if you happen across a log boom, grab your binocs and see if there is a seal or two catching some zzzz’s - maybe you’ll even see Sandy with her fancy yellow hat!

Seal pup Sandy released back into the wild

           
On August 14, 2011, Seal Sitters MMSN responded to a pup in West Seattle that was just a few weeks old and named her Sandy. The pup spent that night on the beach under observation. The next morning, the pup was extremely weak and barely responsive, with numerous infected wounds and no apparent mom. She was severely dehydrated and malnourished to the point of emaciation. Seal Sitters transferred her to PAWS Wildlife Rehabilitation Center for stabilization, treatment and care. On Friday, January 27, after five months of rehabilitation, she was released near a harbor seal haul out in South Puget Sound. Sandy will provide invaluable data to the network.

     
Every year harbor seal pups that strand and are rehabilitated are released back into the wild. Last year, 10 rehabilitated pups provided novel data on how these animals move post release as compared to wild seals. Sandy, an older rehabilitated weaned pup, will be the first of this age class to be tracked by satellite in Washington State. The video above shows her being fitted with a satellite transmitter and released back home to the Salish Sea.

Sandy’s movements will provide ground-breaking information for biologists. She can be tracked by the public as well on SeaDoc Society’s website, which has a web page dedicated to her, showing a map of her cruising around South Puget Sound. In the photo above, Sandy swims in the wild with her new satellite hat. Tracking this animal would not be possible without the collaboration of several network groups which include: Seal Sitters MMSN, PAWS Wildlife Center, WDFW Marine Mammal Investigations, SeaDoc Society and NOAA’s Protected Resources Division.

PUPDATE: Feb 2/2012
We have had some folks with concerns that the satellite tag is somehow harmful for Sandy. The tag is applied with glue to Sandy’s pelt and will fall off when she sheds her fur during molting season in a few months. Most likely, the tag will fall off before then; however, in the interim, the satellite tracking will provide researchers with insights into foraging patterns, distances travelled by weaned pups and health and mortality data. This research will help other seal pups in the future.

Rehabbed pup Sandy due for release

     
Pupdate: The weeks old pup rescued by Seal Sitters from a West Seattle cove on August 15th has finally finished rehabilitation and is ready for release back to the wild. Sandy was terribly thin (photo) and spent the night on the beach. She was taken to PAWS early the following morning. The photo shows her haul out path and the distinct tracks made by seals when they come ashore. Unable to rotate their rear flippers for locomotion on land like sea lions, harbor seals use only their front flippers and crawl in an undulating motion much like a caterpillar. While awkward and vulnerable on shore, seals are fast and acrobatic swimmers with their sleek, torpedo-shaped bodies.

Sandy will be fitted with a satellite tag. This will provide valuable information to biologists and the hope is that the public will be able to track her movements via the internet as well. Her release had been planned for tomorrow, however, due to snow and ice conditions, it will be rescheduled. Please check back for photos of her release to a South Puget Sound haul out site and information about potential website monitoring. It would be a thrill to be able to follow Sandy’s progress back home in the sea.

Seal pup Sandy thriving in rehab at PAWS

     
The seal pup nicknamed Sandy is fattening up at PAWS Wildlife Center in Lynnwood, the only local resource for rehabbing a small number of seal pups each season. The terribly thin pup weighed only 7.7 kgs, or slightly less than 17 lbs, when taken to PAWS on August 15th after spending the night on a West Seattle beach. A healthy pup her age should have weighed about 23 kgs (approx 50 lbs). As of September 24th, Sandy had doubled her weight in rehab to 36 lbs and she is reported to be great at catching live fish! She is due to be released in a few weeks. In the photo, Sandy shows off her new beachball body with a pal in the rehab pool. She will be released when her weight reaches 50 lbs, a sufficient blubber layer to sustain her as she makes the transition back into the wild. Thank you PAWS!

Seal pup Sandy doing well in rehab

     
Sandy, the thin and dehydrated seal pup taken to PAWS in Lynnwood early Monday morning, is doing well. PAWS’ wildlife director reports that she is beginning a diet of solid fish and the cuts and abscesses on her rear flippers are being treated. Rehab of such a young pup is a tenuous road with many ups and downs over the course of months. It is encouraging that Sandy is holding her own and we hope in 10 weeks she will be released back into the Sound - a fat and happy little blubberball.

Sandy is shown here in the light of early evening on the pebbled beach north of the Water Taxi landing. A seal’s fur looks very different when wet or dry (see dry photo in story below), often making identification difficult. For this reason we try to get detailed photos of spots and markings which enables us to track an animal if there are health concerns. In Sandy’s case, she had very defined markings on her left foreflipper and around the eyes, so we were easily able to identify her when she hauled out on a different beach.

PUPDATE 8/22/11 PAWS reports that Sandy is still doing well and taking whole fish.

Rehabbed seal pups behave differently than wild pups

Each year, seal pups are taken for rehabilitation to PAWS in Lynnwood and Wolf Hollow on San Juan Island, the two excellent, but limited resources for our region. Pups are removed from the wild due to human interference, endangerment or compromised health. In a Seattle Times article by Lynda Mapes published yesterday, a study being conducted by SeaDoc Society shows that rehabbed seal pups behave quite differently than those who have lived solely in the wild, in particular their foraging patterns - evidence that a pup should always remain with his mom whenever possible to learn the skills to survive. The decision to remove a seal pup from the beach is one that is weighed heavily by stranding experts. Read the article here.

Many thanks to Lynda for keeping seal pups in the forefront of the news and for giving Seal Sitters a nice mention. Lynda has been a great ally of our network over the past few years.

Seal pup Storm finally returns home to the Salish Sea

     
After over 10 weeks in rehab at PAWS in Lynnwood, our Lincoln Park seal pup Storm has finally been returned to her home in the Salish Sea. Yesterday afternoon, after being given a final examination by veterinarian Dr. John Huckabee, she was loaded into a kennel, sporting a new red identification tag (#803), and transported by truck to an Everett boat launch. Then, in the rain and cold, a team which included PAWS, NOAA, Everett Parks and our SS first responder escorted Storm by boat to her release destination off Jetty Island. Storm became quite animated in her kennel as the salt air and water whipped over the open boat. The excitement and anticipation was evident, too, in the faces of the team. We all silently wondered how she would react to this huge expanse of water after being alone in a small pool for months. Would she be able to fish successfully in the wild? Would she be able to assimilate into the local seal colony? Would she be safe on her own? Worries were soon vanquished by the joy of seeing the kennel gate swing open and Storm plunge into the frigid gray water. She lingered for a bit, looking so small and fragile in the vast waters, and then swam around the tip of the island, out of sight.

When Seal Sitters rescued Storm from the beach on Labor Day, September 6th, she was estimated to be only a few weeks old, weighed a mere 17.7 lbs and was a length of 33 inches. Yesterday when released, she weighed 62 lbs and was 37 inches - only 4 inches longer, but about 45 lbs heavier! Storm is truly a beautiful blubberball who has been given a second chance at life. To have been a part of saving her life and helping Storm return home cannot be put into words.

To read all posts about Storm, please click on the tag below.

Storm to be released back into the wild next week

     
Our Lincoln Park emaciated seal pup, Storm, who was rescued from the beach on Labor Day and taken to PAWS for treatment, is ready for release back into the wild. After a long rehab where she was able to build up strength and pack on some serious pounds, she will finally be able to go home to Puget Sound on Tuesday. Our first responder is thrilled to be able to accompany Storm on this full-circle journey.

We thank PAWS for their monumental effort to restore her back to health. Our little bag-o-bones pup is now a true blubberball.

Storm fattens up at PAWS

Storm is one fat and happy blubberball at PAWS. It is shocking to compare the photos of Storm on the beach at Lincoln Park to her rotund self these days. The above photo at left was taken on September 5th and Seal Sitters rescued her the next morning. For two full weeks or more at PAWS, it was uncertain if she would survive. Thanks to Kevin, PAWS’ naturalist, for sending a recent photo of her in the big pool. She is scheduled for release sometime soon and we will keep you posted with updates.

Help Storm by donating to PAWS

     

Storm is thriving in rehab at PAWS, but it is an extremely costly endeavor to rehab a seal pup - a very labor and food intensive process. We recently were able to get some video footage of Storm swimming in her big pool and being fed a tasty lunch of capelin. It is estimated that Storm’s diet runs about $350 per month. Most seal pups like herring, but Storm has an appetite for capelin, of which she consumes about 11 pounds a day! Storm will continue to grow stronger at PAWS for at least another 4-6 weeks - until she has put on a sufficient blubber store to help her survive upon release back into the wild.

Please make a donation to PAWS (designate “in honor of an animal” - West Seattle seal pup Storm) today and help pay for Storm’s gourmet meals. PAWS relies solely on donations from the public to continue their work. It is estimated that the rehab of one seal pup is approximately $10,000. If you donate, please email us and we’ll let PAWS know our readers made donations. You can also mail a check to: PAWS Wildlife Center, PO Box 1037, Lynnwood, WA 98046 (please indicate on the check that it is to go to the Wildlife Center, seal rehab).

PAWS goes the extra mile to make sure that seal pups are not given too much human exposure while in rehab so that they are not habituated to people upon release. Storm was not allowed to see us and our camera was hoisted over the top of her pool. It was very exciting to see how fat and vibrant she has become.

Storm doing great in rehab

Seal pup, Storm, who was rescued from a Lincoln Park beach on Labor Day, is flourishingt at PAWS. She is now chasing and catching live fish in her large pool. So, the prognosis for a successful rehab and release is very good. Thanks to the dedicated staff at PAWS!

Golden Gardens pup, Sparky, loses battle at PAWS

Seal Sitters learned this morning that Sparky (the female pup we helped rescue from a Ballard beach) died overnight at PAWS. Sparky had been struggling to survive. Please check back tomorrow for more details along with an update on the West Seattle pup, Storm (taken to PAWS on Labor Day). As of late last week, Storm was being fed solid food and had good body weight, but some health complications.

Pupdate: Storm and Sparky still holding their own at PAWS

     
Storm and Sparky are still struggling a bit at PAWS, but rehabbers are still guardedly optimistic about their chances. They are now in a large pool together (shown here resting on their “island”, Storm on the left and Sparky at right). Each pup has her own health issues and they both have battled diarrhea in an attempt to adjust to their new food source.

Storm has good body weight and is still feisty and alert. However, her blood numbers were quite high in some areas. An ultrasound was performed on her yesterday and it revealed that she has an inflamed gall bladder and possibly appendicitis or pancreatitis. The pup that was illegally removed from the outer coast beach, taken to a hotel and then eventually to PAWS also had an inflamed gall bladder. That pup was treated and successfully rehabbed and released this month. Rehabbers do not know what is the cause of the inflammation. Storm has been put on a series of medications to treat her ailments. She has gone from being tube fed a “herring/salmon shake” to solid food consisting of dead herring. Pups have to be force fed the herring until they eventually will chase and eat live fish that is put into their pool. It can be a tedious and lengthy process to get them oriented to feeding themselves.

Sparky has good blood levels, but just can’t seem to put on weight so there is some major concern there. She is still suffering from chronic diarrhea and remains on a fish-shake diet.

Storm and Sparky move to the outside pools at PAWS

Storm (West Seattle pup) and Sparky (Ballard pup) have each been moved to the outside pools at PAWS. The rehab staff there is “cautiously optimistic” about their chances. There is a bit of concern that the pups are not gaining weight, so they were being tube fed today. However, they are both alert and “feisty” and Storm is reportedly one bitey little girl. Once the pups have completed their quarantine they will be put in the same pool - let’s hope they will soon be doing the backstroke together!

Pupdate: seal pup Storm wins first round at PAWS

We received a “pupdate” on Storm, our little pup that was taken to PAWS yesterday afternoon. According to PAWS, Storm is a feisty female - just like the team of women she is named after! She gained quite a bit of weight overnight, but most of that is from being hydrated with fluids and she now weighs 18.7 lbs. Additionally, Storm has quite a few wounds on her, but the good news is none are infected. The most serious wound is a pretty severe one to her right rear flipper. She is being given a round of antibiotics and nutritional support. She is not out of danger, but Seal Sitters volunteers are greatly encouraged.

If Storm doesn’t show signs of the highly contagious disease Brucella, she will be able join the female pup, Sparky, that Seal Sitters helped rescue on Saturday morning. The two pups will go through their rehab together. Many, many thanks to PAWS as always for their incredible work! Please make a donation to PAWS designated to defray the extreme costs of rehabbing seals. Stay tuned for more pupdates on these two gorgeous pups.

Pupdate
9/8/10 7:35
Both Storm and Sparky are alert and feisty this morning, but are battling a bit of diarrhea. Rehabilitators are giving them subcutaneous fluids to keep them hydrated while they adjust to their new food.

Golden Gardens pup taken to PAWS

     
Seal Sitters teamed up with volunteers from the Sno-King Marine Mammal Stranding Network to remove the Golden Gardens seal pup from the beach. The pup had been monitored on the Ballard beach since Thursday and was driven to PAWS for evaluation. After an initial evaluation, PAWS reports that the pup is a weaned female, very emaciated and dehydrated. Seals obtain their water intake from the food they eat and do not drink water. The pup, nicknamed Sparky, also has a number of infected lesions on her underside and flippers as well as an umbilicus infection. She is being stabilized, hydrated and treated for her infections. Seal Sitters will provide updates on the health of Sparky.

This morning Seal Sitters received a report that a group of people had been seen kicking sand on this pup around 8pm last night. If you see a marine mammal being harrassed or injured it is a matter for law enforcement. Call the NOAA Enforcement Hotline @ 1-800-853-1964 (monitored 24 hrs a day) and tell them an animal is being harmed. If the animal or the public is in imminent danger, CALL 911. NOAA Enforcement is not an immediate response team, as there are limited officers in the Pacific Northwest. However, the line is answered 24 hours a day and a harassment should be reported to them immediately. They are an investigative unit and will fine and prosecute violators of the Marine Mammal Protection Act with the proper evidence: violator’s name, photo, or auto license plate number. Do not put yourself at risk to obtain this information. If you need a law enforcement presence because the public or animal is in imminent danger, call 911.

Update 9/5/10. Sparky is doing fine at PAWS today, so keep her in your thoughts.
Update 9/6/10.
PAWS has provided photos of Sparky who continues to improve.
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