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No end in sight for West Seattle volunteers

West Seattle’s crazy seal pup season continues full bore. Today we had 4 pups in different locations. This morning at 5:30 our responder found a pup in a perilous location. Thankfully, the pup returned to Elliott Bay about 7:30 am. We were on the alert since he had hauled out in the same location last night. We are pretty certain the pup was Umbreon, looking very chubby and alert. About 10 am we located Spanky at his usual haulout and taped off the area around him. Even before we could get that perimeter established, the hotline received a call about a pup at Lincoln Park. One of our stalwart volunteers headed for the Park, found the thin pup and began stretching yellow tape between pieces of driftwood and stakes. The pup snoozed til the end of the day. Seal Sitters also investigated a report of a pup on the rocks below Salty’s restaurant. We have yet to identify this pup who returned to Elliott Bay about 4:30 this afternoon after resting since early this morning. Finally, Umbreon hauled out again about 6pm, returning to forage about 8 pm.

What does this all mean? People are surprised that we still have pups hauling out, since “pupping season” is officially over in our area. However, weaned pups continue to need shoreline habitat to rest (as they will their entire lifetime) and they will come ashore near where they forage. It seems apparent that West Seattle has a pretty good food source of late to support a number pups. And it certainly helps that they have found refuge in a location where volunteers respond quickly to help them warm up, doze and recharge undisturbed.

Last year, seal pup Queen Latifah was still hauling out with regularity til late December. Seal Sitters is in the throes of a record breaking year for seal pups. So, volunteers, please keep using the calendar to sign up for shifts - we need your help!

Seal superhero rescues Spanky

     
Seal Sitters volunteers had some extremely anxious hours yesterday and today worried about seal pup Spanky. Around 4pm yesterday, an alert volunteer observing from the far end of the tape perimeter noticed Spanky repositioning himself on a high rock just below the sea wall. Spanky lost his balance and fell backwards, deep into a hole surrounded by a pile of huge boulders. Volunteers waited nervously to see if he could somehow climb back up or find an escape route at the bottom. Unfortunately, there was no escape option for Spanky and a low tide meant he had no water to help elevate him. Volunteers scaled the wall and inspected Spanky’s predicament, but there was no way we could reach in far enough to pull him out. Fire Department officials offered sympathy, but could not help because of insurance and liability issues. We knew the high tide at almost 1am this morning would not be high enough - and that the next high tide was not for another full 12 hours after that. Would it even be high enough for him to maneuver out and over the steep, slick rocks?

We turned to WDFW Marine Mammal Investigations’ biologist Dyanna Lambourn for her usual sage advice. She thought perhaps with a snare we could loop his back flippers and pull him up. So, that was the game plan put into action for this morning. Having spent a long and stressful night, Spanky was still trapped inside the hole at 6am, but was alert - a good sign. Read More...

Seal Sitters get a respite today after dawn to dusk days

     
West Seattle volunteers got a much-needed break today after ten straight days of dawn to dusk duties protecting Umbreon, Sly and Spanky as well as new pups, Noche and Abe. Umbreon (at left as darkness fell on Monday evening), who has been a regular visitor to the same small niche of rocks, spent most of today leisurely foraging and swimming a few feet offshore. He is a very dark pup when wet, but has a beautiful gray and white tweed coat when dry and distinct white markings around the eyes. Umbreon continues to be of good body weight and very alert to his surroundings and potential dangers. Most weaned pups become more wary of people as they get older and are more easily scared off than a young, unsuspecting pup.

Sly, who had been looking too thin and spending more and more hours on shore, finally returned to Elliott Bay early Tuesday morning. Since that time, he has not been observed on his favorite haulout rock. We’re hoping that his many hours of rest has given him the strength to forage and pack on some desperately needed pounds. A small white pup who could be Sly has been observed along with several other pups fishing and lingering in the waters nearby. As pups are weaned and become thinner, their immune system is suppressed, making them vulnerable to parasites and viruses. Small fish seem to be plentiful now around West Seattle and Sly could use a second trip through the buffet line.

     
Spanky, too, has chosen the relative safety of a rocky stretch of beach, but on the west side. While less accessible to direct threat by humans and dogs, his rest is most definitely disrupted when people get too close on the seawall above him. By definition, a violation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act includes any human disturbance which alters the behavior of a marine mammal. It’s important that we do our part to not disrupt pups whenever possible - sometimes a difficult endeavor when you have a crowd of people who are so enthusiastic at the very sight! Spanky has great body weight and appears to be thriving. Like most pups, he has a few nicks and abrasions, but nothing that appears of concern. He enchanted onlookers late Sunday afternoon as he perched on the tip of a rock surrounded by the brilliant blue water of Puget Sound. Eventually, a series of large swells swept Spanky off his roost (see video clip). Spanky has been one of our regulars and made a brief appearance today.

We have two additional newcomers: Noche who spent the evening on the south end of Alki Beach Sunday (our fourth pup onshore that day) and Abe who came ashore at Lincoln Park on Tuesday. This is one crazy pup season we are having this year - and the volunteers are loving it!

"A double seal pup on the rocks, please"

     
For the 9th day straight, Sly has used the safety of West Seattle’s rocky shoreline, but is getting thinner by the day. Umbreon has taken a liking to this spot as well, spending the past two days lounging with his friend.

These have been very long and cold days for our volunteers. It would be nice to think that constant vigilance is not necessary, but each day we have had intentional breaches of the tape barrier. Once the tide recedes, the pups are quite high on the rocks and, if scared, face an extreme risk of falling with possible injury. Both pups have already taken such a tumble this past week.

We have also had visits on the west side by seal pups #38 and 39. Please check back for photos/video and updates about these new pups.

Diehard volunteers bundle up to safeguard pups

      
Seal Sitters volunteers have donned their winter clothing and grabbed their handwarmers for the past six days to protect pups Sly and Umbreon. It has been terribly cold and windy duty and these diehards deserve many kudos for their dedication in safeguarding the weaned pups. Shown here is Jodean, all bundled up with the Seattle skyline behind her. And young volunteer Elizabeth pulled early morning duty with her dad Eric. She is shown here talking to a group of people about the importance of letting Sly get an uninterrupted nap. Thanks to all our amazing volunteers who have put in very long, bone-chiling hours this week!

Sly spent almost 11 hours resting on the rocks, returning to the Sound at evening high tide. A kayaker came too close for a look, scared Sly and he fell onto the rocks below. This is the third incident this season (and the second in two days) where people or dogs have scared a pup high up on rocky banks and the pup has fallen. Please keep your distance whether on land or out on the water. Pups cannot maneuver well on shore (and especially on rocks) so are vulnerable to injury if they are frightened and try to escape. Umbreon did not come ashore today.

Two seal pups on shore again today

     
For the 5th day straight, seal pup Sly hauled out for a long snooze. He was joined again today by new pup Umbreon, who has shared a small stretch of rocky shoreline for two days now. Apparently there is a good food source of small bait fish off West Seattle’s city side. As a rule, a pup will choose a resting place close to where he forages. Last year, we had three fat seal pups using this vicinity to feed and rest for many days in a row. What do seal pups eat? They like tiny fish like shiner perch, 3 spined sticklebacks, starry flounder, gunnel, shrimp and squid. Unfortunately, small fish thrive in the underwater environment created by man-made structures such as docks and fishing piers; that is often the reason that pups are drawn to these places with inherent dangers of fishing gear and vehicles. And people who feed pups or dump bait at these locations only reinforce learned behavior that can be deadly in the long run - they are not doing pups a favor.

     
Umbreon (photo left), a dark pup with distinct white squiggles around the eyes, was very skittish today on his high rock perch. An unwitting paddle boarder came too close and scared Umbreon, who tumbled down the rocks into the water below. We don’t know if the pup was injured since he did not return. Please remember when you are out on the water, you need to keep your distance from pups on shore. Sly disappeared back into Elliott Bay only after being engulfed in waves from high tide (photo above). Volunteers braved wind and cold to keep an eye on the two pups, #36 and 37 that we have watched over since August.
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