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Volunteers gather mounds of trash from seemingly "clean" Alki

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On Saturday morning, a large group of environmentally-conscious volunteers from the public, PAWS Wildlife Center and Seal Sitters gathered at the base Alki Beach’s Statue of Liberty.

SS Lead Investigator Robin Lindsey and Amy Webster, PAWS Community Education Coordinator, gave a brief talk about the dangers of marine debris to wildlife. Since Friday was a dreary, rainy day with few beach-goers and Parks had done its usual early morning trash pickup, Alki Beach looked deceivingly void of trash. Seventy-three volunteers fanned out over a wide area stretching from Constellation Park to Duwamish Head and sidewalks above, armed with gloves and long tweezers to pluck trash (photo shows PAWS Wildlife Rehabilitation Manager Emily Meredith and young volunteer as participants scour the beach in the background).

As volunteers returned to drop off their bags and buckets of trash, the pile grew by leaps and bounds - testimony that what looks insignificant, indeed is. Among the inventory of intact and broken bottles, beer and soft drink cans, more than a thousand cigarette butts (which leech harmful chemicals into the water), plastic bottles, caps and lids was a dope pipe, a very disturbing 5 hypodermic needles (found in differing locations), a sizeable blanket (large enough to potentially kill a gray whale if swallowed), auto tire, part of a boat, chains, piece
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s of gill net (extremely dangerous to marine mammals and sea birds), an expired credit card, a current Washington enhanced drivers license (we are tracking down the Bremerton owner) and a working dive watch (please contact us with a description if you lost a watch at the south end of Alki Beach promenade).

A number of volunteers also enthusiastically brought us what they thought to be plastic or rubber trash, but which were moon snail collars (photo right) - thin, circular casings of sand and mucous, each of which contains about 300,000 eggs. The collars were promptly returned to the beach. For information about moon snail collars, read Seal Sitters’ education advisor Buzz Shaw’s marine life blogpost.

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Thanks to the many volunteers who together donated hundreds of hours scouring the beaches, seawalls and streets and sidewalks of our westside shoreline. Picking up trash is not only rewarding, it can be fun for kids and adults alike. We had a number of amazing kids who spent their Saturday morning protecting both wildlife and beach-goers from dangerous trash. After their hard work, these kids showed some love to Seal Sitters’ “Sentinels of the Sound” sculpture by renowned Northwest artist Georgia Gerber.

Seal Sitters thanks Seattle Parks for providing materials for the cleanup and our co-sponsor/partners PAWS Wildlife Center and Alki Community Council. We hope everyone will continue to pick up trash during their trips to the beaches - every day is beach cleanup day.

"Sentinels of the Sound" beach cleanup June 14th

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Make a difference and join us to remove litter from Alki Beach this season. Seal Sitters, PAWS Wildlife Center and the Alki Community Center are joining forces to sponsor a beach cleanup on Saturday morning, June 14th from 9:30am - 12:30pm. We will assemble at the Statue of Liberty Plaza located at Alki Avenue SW and 61st Ave SW.
Please RSVP.

Prior to dispersing volunteers with materials to pick up trash, Seal Sitters and PAWS Wildlife Center will speak briefly at 9:30 about the dangers of marine debris to wildlife and the difficult rehab of harbor seal pups.

All marine life is endangered by marine debris and pollution. Many, many thousands of marine animals and sea birds die each year from derelict fishing gear, marine debris and pollution. They are entangled and drowned by nets and gear. Strangled and contaminated by plastics. Sea birds choke on plastic and limbs are severed.

This year's beach cleanup events will once again be in honor of seal pup Sandy who was rescued from a West Seattle beach in August of 2011, rehabilitated at PAWS Wildlife Center, and then released back to the wild in January of 2012. Sandy was found dead 66 days later, entangled in derelict fishing gear. The event is also in honor of the juvenile gray whale that died on Arroyos beach in April of 2010. The necropsy revealed only human trash in the whale’s stomach.

Please join us to help save marine life! For more info and to RSVP, please click here.

No "butts" about it - Alki Beach cleanup a success

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Early this morning, 56 adults and children concerned about our marine environment (like 8 year old London from Nevada shown here with her grandmother Jimi), gathered near the Alki Bathhouse intent on cleaning up trash from Alki Beach. Seal Sitters’ Robin Lindsey spoke briefly about the two marine mammals serving as inspiration for the bi-annual event: seal pup Sandy and the Arroyos gray whale, both of whom suffered grave consequences from marine debris and trash. Kathryn Davis of Puget Soundkeeper Alliance talked about the importance of keeping the Sound free of trash and pollution - and the many ways we can make a positive impact.

Because yesterday was such a dreary, rainy day with not too many beach-goers, there was not the typical overflow of Friday night garbage strewn all over the sidewalks and beach. However, we assured everyone they would find lots of small, harmful trash - including many cigarette butts. In fact, well over an estimated thousand cigarette butts were picked up in a matter of hours along with plastics and paper.

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Why are cigarette filters so harmful? First of all they contain plastic and are often mistaken for food by marine animals and birds. The part of the butt that looks like cotton is actually a cellulose acetate that biodegrades very slowly in the environment. Butts can take up to 5 years to break down in sea water. Since filters are designed to absorb tar and nicotine, they are laced with these toxins as well as lead and cadmium. Within an hour of coming into contact with water, the butts begin to release chemicals. Butts don’t have to be discarded at the beach to end up in our water. They wash down sidewalks and street gutters into storm drains that lead to the rivers, bays and Puget Sound. An estimated 4.5 TRILLION cigarette butts are discarded world-wide each year, leaching toxins into the soil and waterways.

The beach cleanup was a great success - all in all, over 100 hours of volunteer time were donated this morning (we’re still tallying the hours) to help keep all of us and the wildlife we love safe. We thank everyone for their hard work and passion! And a special thanks to SS hotline guru Larry Carpenter for puling everything together to make this happen.

"Sentinels of the Sound" beach cleanup in honor of seal pup Sandy

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Make a difference and join us to remove litter from Alki Beach on Saturday, August 3rd. Seal Sitters' Year of the Seal: Sentinels of the Sound project is intended to raise awareness of the impact that humans have on our fragile marine ecosystem (to follow progress of our YOS project on blubberblog, click here).

Harbor seals (who do not migrate and are year-round residents) and orcas, both animals at the top of the food chain, are especially hard hit by pollutants from storm runoff and microplastics which are stored in their blubber. A 2005 study showed that harbor seals of South Puget Sound were 7 times more contaminated with PCBs than those of Canada's Georgia Strait. The orcas of Puget Sound are the most contaminated marine mammals in the world.

All marine life is endangered by marine debris and pollution. Many, many thousands of marine animals and sea birds die each year from derelict fishing gear, marine debris and pollution. They are entangled and drowned by nets and gear. Strangled and contaminated by plastics.

This year's beach cleanup events will once again be in honor of seal pup Sandy who was rescued from a West Seattle beach in August of 2011, rehabilitated at PAWS Wildlife Center, and then released back to the wild in January of 2012. Sandy was fitted with a satellite tag (glued to her fur which would be shed when she molted) to monitor her success in the wild and provide valuable data to biologists about foraging patterns of rehabbed seals. Sixty-six days later, Sandy was found dead, entangled in derlict fishing line off the Edmonds Pier. Read more about Sandy.

Sandy has truly put a face on pollution. Trash on the beach becomes treacherous in the water. You can make a difference! Help keep our beaches clean and our sea life safe.
Read more about marine pollution here.

We would also like to honor the memory of the Arroyos gray whale who stranded and died in 2010. The
necropsy revealed that there was no food in the thin juvenile male's stomach - only human trash.

Seal Sitters, along with co-sponsors Alki Community Council and Seattle Department of Parks and Recreation, will hold a cleanup of West Seattle's Alki Beach on Saturday, August 3 from 9am-noon. We will assemble at Alki's Statue of Liberty plaza (61st Ave SW and Alki Ave SW). Please RSVP for this event so we have enough bags and equipment on hand.

Read about last year's event
here.

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.

Honeysuckle the rehabbed pup's surprising travels

Honeysuckle was an abandoned harbor seal pup rescued by the Whatcom Marine Mammal Stranding Network on Lummi Island and rehabbed at Wolf Hollow on San Juan Island. SeaDoc Society fitted her with a satellite tag before her release so that her movements could be tracked and provide data to researchers. Her travels surprised everyone. Watch the video here. You can follow Honeysuckle’s travels on SeaDoc Society’s dedicated webpage.

Seal Sitters’ seal pup Sandy was also fitted with a satellite tag early this year. Her story did not have such a happy ending and she was found dead, entangled in derelict fishing line off the Edmonds pier. Read Sandy’s story here.

Beach cleanup a big success as volunteers honor seal pup Sandy

     
Yesterday, 54 passionate volunteers donated hours of their time to help clean up trash along Alki Beach and Constellation Park in honor of seal pup Sandy found dead earlier this year, entangled in derelict fishing line. 23 Seal Sitters and 31 community members (including 6 minors) participated in the event, co-sponsored by Seal Sitters, Alki Community Council and Seattle Parks. Anxious to do their part to help protect sea life from the dangers of marine debris and trash, they scoured the beach and sidewalks armed with buckets, bags and trash grabbers. Peggy Foreman of NOAA talked briefly about marine debris and specifically about the stranded Arroyos gray whale whose stomach contents consisted solely of human trash. 

While the beach did not appear to be as littered as usual on a summer Saturday morning due to a rather rainy Friday, the volunteers filled about 10 large trash bags. They picked up many cans, plastic bottles and caps, countless cigarette butts, and among other things a kayak paddle, a woman's black and pink bra and dirty diapers. Students from UW's Environmental Studies program each donated over 3 hours of their time, picking up bags of trash including spent fireworks on Constellation Beach - fireworks that leave toxic residue and contaminate the Sound. We even had a family drive all the way from Ellensburg, well over 100 miles each way, just to pick up trash on the beach! Brooklyn, the "almost" 9 year old daughter, read about seals on our website, saw the post about Sandy and told her mom and dad (super-parents Vanessa and Kevin) that she wanted to come help seal pups by cleaning up the beach. We can't thank everyone enough for helping out. A total of 128.5 hours were donated yesterday morning. All of these volunteers are a true inspiration and made a difference for our sea life. Special kudos to SS vols David and Eilene Hutchinson and Larry Carpenter.

Find out more about the dangers of marine pollution on Seal Sitters’ website.

Alki Beach cleanup in honor of seal pup Sandy

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On Saturday morning, July 21st, from 9 am - noon, Seal Sitters and Alki Community Council (along with Seattle Parks and Recreation) will sponsor a beach cleanup of Alki and surrounding beaches. This year’s cleanups will be in honor of seal pup Sandy, who was rescued from a West Seattle beach on August 16, 2011. After a lengthy rehabilitation at PAWS Wildlife Center, Sandy was finally released in January of 2012 at an island harbor seal haul out south of Tacoma. Sandy was satellite tagged for scientific purposes and her progress in the wild was followed by approximately 600 people throughout Puget Sound. She travelled from South Puget Sound up to the San Juans and back, around Vashon Island, back to the Olympia area and finally up to Edmonds - where she lingered for a bit. After 66 days of freedom back in the wild, she was found dead by divers on a routine marine debris cleanup. Sandy was entangled in derelict fishing line near the Edmonds pier.

Sandy the seal pup truly puts a face on the dangers of marine pollution and trash. You may also remember the young gray whale that stranded and died on Arroyos Beach - the only contents in his stomach were human trash. Please make a difference and join us. Countless thousands of marine animals die as a result of marine debris, trash and pollution. Trash that is on the beach becomes treacherous in the sea. Read more about marine pollution on Seal Sitters’ website.

Peggy Foreman of NOAA will discuss the dangers of marine debris and pollution shortly after we assemble at 9am. We will meet at the Statue of Liberty (next to the Alki Bathhouse on Alki Beach 61st Ave SW and Alki Avenue SW). Please rsvp for this event as Parks will be providing trash grabbers and buckets for participants.

To print out a copy of this flyer to post at your work or business, please click here. The flyer is a full bleed and may need to be set at “reduce to fit” for some inkjet printers.

Divers recover seal pup Sandy's body for necropsy

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Late yesterday, divers from the Highline Community College Marine Science and Technology (MaST) stranding team recovered seal pup Sandy’s body from the bottom of Puget Sound, beneath Edmond’s public fishing pier. Rus Higley (photo left), Kaddee Lawrence and Arthur Bureacov donned scuba gear and dove from the pier in search of the pup admidst kelp, abandoned fishing lines and lures. There was interest in recovery to see how well the pup had been foraging and her overall body condition; she had not been sighted since her release on January 21. The body was delivered to WDFW Marine Mammal Investigations Unit for necropsy which will be performed this week.

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On Sunday, an Edmonds dive team was doing routine marine debris recovery. They were removing a huge ball of monofilament from a kelp bed. A diver noticed Sandy, entangled in line, removed the flipper tag and satellite tag for id purposes and reported her location to NOAA. Many thanks to that dedicated dive team for reporting their discovery and for their on-going work to clean up the marine environment.

Yesterday, while the MaST team searched the cold waters below (photo right), Seal Sitters’ lead investigator was stationed up on the pier to keep them safe from fishermen’s casts. She had an enlightening conversation with lone fisherman Nick about derelict lines and lures. According to Nick, there are a number of large tires that have been sunk off the pier in order to create habitat for fish. While fish have indeed become abundant in this habitat, the problem is that lures are constantly getting caught on the rubber tires and fishermen can’t reel them back in. Much to the frustration of the fishermen, the lines then have to be cut, leaving a maze of ebbing monofilament, hooks and lures which put marine mammals and sea birds at great risk. Nick said that Des Moines had sunk tires as well years ago, but finally removed them all. It was his and other fishermen’s opinion that Edmonds should follow suit. When the MaST team completed the dive, Sandy in tow, the divers mentioned the amazing amount and variety of large game fish in the habitat - and where there are big fish, there are usually the small bait fish that seal pups prefer.

While the Edmonds pier situation appears irreparable without removal of the tire habitat, Seal Sitters has noticed that the fishing piers in West Seattle (Water Taxi and Duwamish Head piers) are often strewn with cut line and hooks. There are a number of sea gulls seen by the piers with only one leg - the direct result of having line sever a leg. Volunteers David and Eilene recently removed line from the leg of a gull. Lincoln Park’s favorite fishing hole by Colman Pool is littered with line and hooks everywhere when the fish are running. We respectfully ask that fishermen please be more careful and not leave derelict gear. Not only are seal pups and gulls endangered - so are people and other animals.

Huge thanks to MaST’s stranding team Rus, Kaddee and Arthur for recovering “satellite” Sandy, whose movements were followed by almost 600 residents of Puget Sound via her SeaDoc Society dedicated web page. The satellite revealed that Sandy travelled 990 kilometers (615 miles) in the 66 days she swam free in the wild. The death of Sandy has truly put a face on the dangers of marine debris and derelict fishing gear. Seal Sitters intends to dedicate our annual beach cleanups in her memory. We hope you will join us.

Derelict fishing gear dangers - and what to do

The death of seal pup Sandy, who drowned entangled in fishing line, has raised many questions the past two days. People have been asking what to do about derelict fishing gear should they come upon it. First of all, derelict gear, especially line and nets, is extremely dangerous. Never get close enough to risk becoming entangled yourself. Northwest Straits Derelict Gear Removal Program has informed us that a diver became entangled and died during a fishing line recovery operation several years ago.

If by sad chance, you see a dead marine mammal entangled in gear, get a photo if possible. If the animal is tagged and you can do it safely, try to get a photo of the tag number. Do not put yourself in danger to do so. Do not attempt to remove the animal or the fishing gear. Email the photo of the animal to Kristin Wilkinson, NOAA’s NW Marine Mammal Stranding Expert, along with lat/long information. To report only derelict gear, please contact NW Straits - they are the experts at removal.

What should you do if you encounter a live entangled animal? First, if at all possible, call the NOAA stranding network @ 800-853-1964 (in the West Seattle area call 206-905-7325). Keep in mind that most of the networks do not have boats or divers readily available for that type of response except in matters of whales. We want to stress the inherent danger in trying to free an animal. If you insist on proceeding at your own risk in this highly dangerous task, NOAA’s Good Samaritan clause will protect you from Federal prosecution for the “take” of a marine mammal (Marine Mammal Protection Act). The Good Samaritan exemption is as follows (found on NOAA website):

It shall not be a violation of this chapter to take a marine mammal if:
   1)  such taking is imminently necessary to avoid serious injury, additional injury, or death to a marine mammal entangled in fishing gear or debris
   2)  reasonable care is taken to ensure the safe release of the marine mammal, taking into consideration the equipment, expertise and conditions at hand
   3)  reasonable care is exercised to prevent any further injury to the marine mammal and
   4)  such taking is reported within 48 hours

Please note: This MMPA exemption does not protect you from liability of monetary damages from the owner of the net or fishing gear.

We cannot say enough how tremendously dangerous fishing gear is to all living things - including you. The last thing we want is a human tragedy on top of this environmental one.

Seal pup Sandy drowns in fishing gear

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Seal Sitters is heartbroken to report that a diver found rehabbed seal pup Sandy dead, entangled in fishing lines 50+ feet underwater off the Edmonds fishing pier. He was able to retrieve her flipper tags for id purposes and the satellite tag which had been beaming her travels since she was released back into the wild on January 21st. An Edmonds Seal Sitters volunteer transferred the tags to NOAA. Based on prior experience with tagged animals, the agencies involved believe it is highly unlikely that the flipper or satellite tag contributed to the entanglement of this seal.

Sandy was only three weeks old, weighing 7.1 kgs (a third of normal body weight for a nursing pup), when she was rescued by Seal Sitters from a West Seattle beach on August 15, 2011 (photo right). She spent a lengthy 5 month rehab at PAWS, but was a robust pup when finally released at a harbor seal rookery in South Puget Sound. Through the combined efforts of PAWS, NOAA, SeaDoc Society and WDFW Marine Mammal Investigations, Sandy was fitted with the satellite tag in order to provide valuable data to researchers. The satellite revealed she stayed relatively close to the release point for the first few days, but then she began taking off on adventures - south to Olympia, north to the San Juans, circling Vashon, back to Olympia and Shelton, up to Edmonds a couple of times. After being in a small pool for so many months, it seemed as though she had the travel bug and appeared to be thriving in the wild (map below shows her travels). The last satellite hit was on the 27th.

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It is so tragic that Sandy’s death was human-caused, after so many humans dedicated themselves to give her a chance at life. We don’t know why she was emaciated and alone on the beach in August. Her mom may have died - or there could have been a disturbance by humans or animals that caused abandonment. We do know, however, that many thousands of marine mammals (and birds and sea turtles) die each year from fishing gear and derelict gear, nets, and marine debris. Sandy is the second rehabbed pup to die this year from fishing gear - another pup died in a Hood Canal net only a week after being returned to the wild. Last pupping season, Seal Sitters rescued a drowning pup from a net in the Duwamish River. Young animals are not savvy about the dangers of nets and fishing gear and countless die that we never know about. The beach at Lincoln Park is carelessly littered with fishing line and hooks every year when the fish are running. You can honor this beautiful and innocent pup by picking up any debris you come upon - and perhaps save another marine mammal from a painful and untimely death.

Sandy is not the only harbor seal with a West Seattle connection to die from fishing gear. A few days before we rescued her last August, we responded to a dead adult female on Beach Drive. The necropsy showed that the female had given birth within ten days or so and the cause of death was from fishing line and lure, twisting the female’s stomach and causing an agonizing death. A newborn pup we nicknamed Tiny died on another beach the same day as the necropsy. It is not beyond the realm of speculation that Tiny was this female’s pup and that fishing gear caused the death of both animals.

This is truly a very sad day. Special thanks to PAWS’ staff who nursed Sandy back to health and cared for her for so many months. For those of us who participated in her release, we will never forget the joy of seeing her swimming free in the Sound with that little yellow-green satellite hat. SS volunteers and Puget Sound residents signed up to receive SeaDoc Society email alerts and excitedly followed her movements online. To read more about Sandy and view the video of her release back to the wild, click here.

To learn more about the dangers of marine debris and how you can help, click here.

NOTE TO DIVERS:
If you are a diver and come upon animals who have died in derelict gear, we ask two things. First, please take a photograph and email a jpg to us. We will forward the photos to the appropriate person for a corresponding database - this will greatly help assess the true number of animals that perish each year. Secondly, please indicate the location of the derelict gear if you have lat/long finder and we will report it to the Northwest Straits Derelict Fishing Gear Removal Program which estimates that 50,000 animals are entangled and die each year in Washington waters just in shallow water nets and gear (excluding an unknown number in deep-water derelict gear). Harbor seals had by far the highest number of deaths among marine mammals in gear they removed. According to their website :

As of November 30, 2011, the Northwest Straits Initiative has removed 4,081 derelict fishing nets and 2,668 crab pots from Puget Sound, restoring 596 acres of critical marine habitat. Over 241,700 animals, representing more than 240 species, were found entangled in this gear.

Please spread this message among your diving community and make a difference for the marine mammals of Washington. Do not attempt to remove fishing gear - it is extremely dangerous. NW Straits has informed us that a diver drowned in Puget Sound a few years ago on a sport fishing line cleanup.

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!

Fauntleroy ferry dock pup too weak to survive

Seal Sitters and the NOAA Hotline received numerous calls late yesterday morning from concerned folks waiting to board the ferry at the Fauntleroy dock. Our responder found an extremely thin pup at the tide line and established a substantial boundary with yellow tape so that he would not be scared back into the water. We are not sure how long the pup had been at this location, but it was obvious that he was in some serious trouble. Unfortunately, it is a sad fact that every pup in need cannot be rescued from the beach and taken for treatment due to limited treatment resources - PAWS can only accommodate ten pups at a time and the rehab is quite lengthy. In dire emergencies, a pup can be flown to Wolf Hollow Wildlife Center in the San Juans courtesy of Kenmore Air. That trip, however, is extremely stressful for any wild animal who already is in a tenuous battle to live. Whenever possible, stranding network volunteers monitor an animal for 24 hours in hopes they will return to the Sound to forage for food in an effort to survive. After observing this horribly thin pup, nicknamed Qakak by neighbors, Seal Sitters intervened mid-afternoon and rescued him from suffering on this beach frequented by people with off-leash dogs - always a danger to seal pups. The pup died en route to PAWS and will be necropsied by WDFW Marine Mammal Investigations’ biologist to determine cause of death.

Thanks to the kayakers who went well out of their way to launch further up the beach. They realized that a small inconvenience to humans can often be the difference between life and death to a resting baby animal. Many kudos to those caring adults and kids.

On a brighter note, Sandy, the small pup rescued from another West Seattle beach, is doing well at PAWS and could be our first success story of this season. Early in the past two seasons, we have had terribly small pups who have struggled with no mom around. It is a tough statistic that only 50% of pups make it to their first year and nature can be pretty harsh at times - all the more reason that they need to rest. Take heart that soon, we will have some fat little pups who have been successfully weaned in the rookeries visiting our beaches!

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.

Small pup hauls out on sandy beach

     
Small pups continue to visit the beaches of West Seattle. Early this morning we received a report of a little pup south of Constellation Park that had returned to the water during the night. The homeowner said she could see an adult seal swimming in the area. Another phone call came into the hotline this afternoon of a pup on a sandy stretch of West Seattle’s city-side beach. The thin pup rested on the sand and reluctantly returned to the Sound at high tide. Nicknamed Sandy by a volunteer, the pup swam to a location just south of there, hauling out to rest until darkness fell. It is estimated from review of photos of erupted teeth that this pup is only a few weeks old.

Seal Sitters would like to extend special thanks to Greg and Alki Kayak Tours for being so cooperative in sharing the cove with this very sweet and very tired little pup - and for keeping people at bay until our volunteers could arrive on scene.

PUPDATE 8/15/11 12:30 pm: Sandy, a too thin pup who apparently has no attending mom, was still on the beach at sunrise this morning and was taken to PAWS. Please check back for updates.

PUPDATE 8/15/11 4:30pm: PAWS reports that Sandy is doing well at the facility. She is a female, but weighs a mere 7.1 kg (or 15.6 lbs). That weight is a full two pounds less than our little beauty, Storm, who we rescued from Lincoln Park last year - and who was successfully rehabbed and released by PAWS ten weeks later. A healthy pup being nursed by mom should weigh between 21-23 kg. Keep Sandy in your thoughts as she will undoubtedly face some challenges.
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