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"Share the Shore" this holiday weekend

The 4th of July weekend is a time when people head to the beach to enjoy some fun and, hopefully, sun. Please remember that this is a sensitive time of year for harbor seals. July is smack-dab in the middle of pupping season on the Outer Coast and pups are now being born in the inland waters of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Puget Sound. Please stay at least 100 yards away from harbor seal haulouts, many of which are rookeries full of pregnant females and newborn pups. Disturbance often has disastrous consequences. Newborn pups are not ready for “independence” until they have been weaned at least 4-6 weeks old.

July 4th is no holiday for wildlife. Fireworks, loud music, people and off leash dogs can cause newborn seal pups (and other young species) to be abandoned. Please enjoy nature responsibly and stay back from any seals resting on the beach.

Boaters, kayakers and paddle boarders should remember to stay well away from platforms, docks, buoys and harbor seal haulouts with resting animals. Newborn pup Sparkle was abandoned by her mom due to boater harassment last season (photo left). The emaciated pup later died in rehab.

Pupping season in South Puget Sound is from late June-September (view timeline map here). Please, “Share the Shore” with wildlife! Read related post about disturbance here.

There has been no new information released about the recent seal killing near Grayland Beach on the Washington Coast.

Seal pups finding safety off shore

Seal Sitters’ first responders are still a bit baffled as to the lull in marine mammal activity in our area as compared to prior years. Other networks appear to be having a quieter off-season as well, at least in regard to weaned seal pups using the shoreline. That said, there are several pups that have been resting on wooden rafts secured just off shore, stretching from Brace Point to Alki.

Shown here is La-Z-Boy, who has been reclining on the Alki platform off and on for a week or so. La-Z-Boy is very alert and relatively robust for a weaned pup. He (or she) usually spends long days lounging there, out of the cold Puget Sound waters before returning to forage by the evening.

These “life rafts” provide a safe haven for pups and adults (and herons, cormorants and other shorebirds) to rest without disturbance from people and dogs. Occasionally a sea lion will opt to hop aboard to take a snooze. If you are a waterfront homeowner and would like to build a raft to help wildlife, please contact us and we can provide plans for construction and even advice securing the raft in place. Not only will you be doing wildlife a huge favor, you will enjoy watching them in your own watery backyard.

Kayakers and boaters, please remember to STAY BACK from these off shore platforms so that the animals can rest undisturbed. Last year, boater harassment of the Alki platform caused newborn seal pup Sparkle, only a few days old, to be abandoned by her mom. She later died at PAWS. As harbor seal pupping season approaches, remember that sometimes these platforms are used by harbor seal moms and their vulnerable pups, who cannot survive on their own - boater disturbance is truly a matter of life and death.

Seal Sitters has a new volunteer training scheduled on Saturday, April 26th. Visit our website if you would like to help protect marine mammals. Space is filling up fast, so make sure you RSVP soon.

Seal pup deaths hit volunteers hard

The 2013 harbor seal pupping season in the West Seattle area is off to a grueling start. We have seen nothing but terribly skinny pups in the past weeks - including newborn Sparkle (shown here with a yearling) who was most likely abandoned by her mom due to boater harassment. Thus far, not a single reasonably plump and viable pup has rested on our shores. Even veteran first responders who deal with marine mammal death frequently throughout the year, find ourselves with tear-filled eyes as we watch these pups struggle to survive. With limited rehabilitation space and recent slashed funding for research, our hands are tied in too many situations.

Yes, there is a 50% mortality rate within the first year of life for seal pups. However, prior to the past two seasons, we had a number of robust, vital pups foraging and hauling out to rest and warm up on the beach - in addition to those who were dangerously underweight and teetering on that thin line between life and death. This constant stream of terribly thin pups the past two years should not be the norm. Seal Sitters’ Year of the Seal: Sentinels of the Sound educational outreach project was born out of concern for the health of harbor seals and our troubled Puget Sound waters. We are so saddened to report the number of seal pups that SS has responded to that have died in the past few weeks has now reached 9 - many of those pups were ones that volunteers devoted hundreds of hours of observation and protection.

While Seal Sitters may not have been able to save these pups, our volunteers and a very caring public let them rest undisturbed and leave this world with dignity and love. And we were able to educate many, many people who stood captivated as the pups stretched and yawned and occasionally gazed back at them. These pups touched us all very deeply.

On a much happier note, emaciated seal pup Snapper who was rescued from the beach at Cormorant Cove on August 6th has been thriving in rehab at PAWS Wildlife Center. Snapper weighed 8.8 kg upon admission to PAWS and at last report was true “blubberball” weight in excess of 20kg. The pup will be released back to the wild near Everett’s Jetty Island in mid-October. Read about Snapper.

We received heartbreaking news that seal pup Polo died Thursday morning, September 19th, at PAWS Wildlife Center. Polo was rescued early morning on the 15th as he suffered from seizures in the tideline below the Alki Avenue sea wall and taken to PAWS. This sweet little pup fought valiantly for almost a week, as PAWS’ staff did everything in their power to save him, but to no avail.

Volunteers had observed and protected Polo for numerous days that week, with no indication of serious health issues - other than being thin, but not nearly as thin as other pups before him. However, one thing responders have learned over the course of the past 7 years is that a pup’s health can take a drastic turn for the worse seemingly overnight. Such seems to be the case with Polo.

The necropsy by WDFW-MMI reveals that Polo had a blubber thickness of only .2 cm. A healthy, robust pup should have a blubber thickness over 2.5 cm and weigh 20-25 kg. A pup with a thickness of less than 1cm is not likely to be able to survive. The seizures were most likely due to hypoglycemia as a result of emaciation. Read about Polo here.

Sparkle, the pup most likely abandoned by her mom because of boater harassment at the Alki platform, was euthanized at PAWS on September 9th. She was estimated to be about 5 days old when rescued from the beach by Seal Sitters first responders. PAWS’ 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. Read about Sparkle here.

On Wednesday, September 18th, SS Lead Investigator Robin Lindsey and Seattle Aquarium volunteer Jarett Kaplan paddled out along with SS Science Advisor and zoologist Buzz Shaw to examine, mark and sink the body of seal pup Angel. Terribly thin, Angel visited our shore very briefly on Saturday the 14th, but died a day or so later on the offshore Alki platform. We had to wait several days until there were no other seals using the raft to do the retrieval. The body was marked with biodegradable spray paint for identification purposes (in case the body came ashore elsewhere) and returned to the Sound to nourish other animals in the ecosystem. Many thanks to Jarett for keeping an eye on the platform for a window of opportunity to examine Angel.

First responders discovered Kitten dead on a private beach south of the Alki promenade on September 2nd. The thin female pup had been guarded by volunteers the previous day and many days prior. Her body was taken for necropsy by WDFW-MMI. The female pup weighed only 7.9 kg with a .3 cm blubber thickness. A normal thickness for robust pup is between 2.5 and 3 cm. Among other complications, she was suffering from gastroenteritis. Read about Kitten here.

Irie hauled out during the evening of August 26th at Alki, not too far from where volunteers were watching over seal pup Kitten. The pup was alert and plumper than most. Irie was found dead by the Bathhouse on August 31st, marked with biodegradable paint for identification purposes and returned to the Sound.

BellaBaby (at left) was found dead on a private beach just north of Lincoln Park on August 24th. She had been observed resting the day before at a nearby location. The pup was transported to WDFW-MMI for necropsy which revealed that the pup weighed 9 kg, was 80 cm in length and had a blubber thickness of .9. On examination, BellaBaby had an abnormal “fatty liver”, which can occur in weaned pups as they convert from a fatty diet (mom’s milk is about 50% fat) to starvation. Read about BellaBaby here.

Snapper taken to rehab as options dwindle for struggling pups

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?

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.

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 pup Sparkle, victim of human interference, taken to rehab

Early this morning, newborn seal pup Sparkle was taken from a private beach and transported to PAWS Wildlife Center for stabilization and treatment. The pup, along with several adult seals and a yearling, had been harassed for a number of days as they tried to rest on an offshore platform near Alki Beach (post below). The other seals left the area and the tiny, vulnerable pup was left alone as a steady stream of people in power boats, canoes and kayaks broke federal law by coming way too close to her, some even close enough to touch the raft.

First responders David and Eilene kept watch through their scope last evening, trying to determine if mom might return to nurse her pup, but Sparkle was still alone at 9pm. They saw her leave the raft and, luckily, a neighbor noticed the pup come ashore on the private beach, quickly alerting our volunteers. Under cover of darkness and incoming tide, the pup would be relatively safe for the night. At 5am, lead investigator Robin found Sparkle sound asleep in the same spot and began the process of arranging her rescue - a call to PAWS to ensure they had space, emailing health assessment photos to WDFW’s Dyanna Lambourn for consult (thank you, Dyanna, for your sage advice) and lining up volunteers Lynn and Lars to assist in the capture.

This is a classic case of the drastic negative impact humans can have on wildlife. As explained in MANY prior posts, a harbor seal mom will abandon her pup if there is human disturbance, fleeing from danger. This poor pup, dropping weight each day because she could not forage on her own, was doomed to death by starvation because of this harassment. We appreciate the many concerned waterfront owners who kept us abreast of the violations by boaters and helped monitor Sparkle’s health.

Thankfully, the pup came ashore and we were able to capture and transport her. There is no guarantee the emaciated pup will survive - and because of people’s insensitivity and carelessness, even after months of fattening up in rehab, Sparkle will not have learned valuable life lessons from mom, such as how to forage successfully and interact with other seals.

PUPDATE 7:30pm
PAWS confirms that Sparkle is female and weighs a mere 6.6 kg. Despite a bloody umbilicus there appears to be no infection, but she has multiple punctures on her hind flippers. We will keep you updated about Sparkle’s progress.

Sparkle was euthanized at PAWS this morning. 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.

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

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

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

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

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

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