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seal pupping season

First seal pups of season born on Washington and Oregon coasts

Harbor seal pupping season is officially underway along the outer coast of the Pacific Northwest. The first reported birth of a pup in Washington State was on the Long Beach Peninsula on April 19th. The photo at right of an Oregon harbor seal haulout with hundreds of resting seals shows one newborn pup (circled in red).

Haulouts, where seals gather in numbers throughout the year to rest and forage, become rookeries during seal pupping season (click here to view a map showing pupping season by region). Pregnant females seek safety in numbers to give birth and nurse their young. Yearlings, juveniles and adult males also gather at the rookeries during this time.

Before long, there will be lots of tiny pups calling out “maa-aa”, each with a unique voice so mom can find and nurse her hungry pup in the crowded, noisy colony. After the newborn pups have been weaned at 4-6 weeks old, adults mate. All of the seals (except the pups) then go through the molting process (shedding and growing a new fur coat), remaining onshore for more extended periods of time over the following weeks.

Sometimes, a pup will be seen away from a rookery - left alone onshore while mom forages. If you come across a pup alone on the beach, stay back at all times (100 yards when possible) and observe quietly. Otherwise, due to human (or canine - always keep dogs leashed) interference, the mom may abandon her pup. If you have concerns that a seal pup may indeed be abandoned, please call the local stranding network for that area (click here for info). As the season progresses, weaned pups are also often seen resting alone on shore. It is estimated that between 3,000 and 5,000 pups are born each year in Washington’s inland waters. However, only 50% will survive the first year.

Respect harbor seal haulouts - stay back! Disturbance has drastic consequences and can cause abandonment and starvation for newborn pups. Whether hiking or boating, always stay a respectable distance away - 100 yards if at all possible. It is truly a matter of life and death for vulnerable seal pups. Remember, harbor seals are protected by federal law, the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

For a real-time look at a harbor seal haulout in South Puget Sound, check out WDFW’s very cool and educational seal cam here. Pupping season will not begin at this or other area haulouts until late June, but there is always some fascinating seal activity to view live.

ALERT: Seal pupping season underway on the outer coast

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

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

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

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