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Sad and unexpected outcome for Beach Drive seal pup

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(see update at end of post)
Seal Sitters volunteers are still reeling from an unexpected turn of events at Emma Schmitz Park yesterday. Late Saturday afternoon, just before high tide, a seal pup came ashore at the park’s small pocket beach located below Beach Drive - a beach notorious (as are too many in West Seattle) for illegally off-leash dogs.

Upon arrival, our first responder thanked the reporting party who called the hotline and had even posted some handmade signs warning people that a seal pup was resting there. The next order of business was to cordon off access to a small section of the sidewalk that runs along the seawall and opens onto the beach. With only a few feet of beach to rest upon, the tired pup snuggled right up against the cement entryway - barely visible.

The dark-coated pup was thin, but alert and stretched and yawned in typical seal pup fashion. Then, the pup zonked out for a snooze. Over the next 5-plus hours on this beautiful evening, there were many people out and about - walkers, bikers, paddleboarders - all of them thrilled to learn about the tiny, exotic visitor who would occasionally peer up, curious about the strange and excited 2-legged creatures on the sidewalk high above him.

Late in the evening, after darkness fell and the crowds dispersed, our volunteers reluctantly left for home. The pup, nicknamed H2Otis, was sleeping peacefully on the now expansive beach and we hoped he’d be safe throughout the night.

At 5:30am, Seal Sitters’ first responder was back to check on the pup. H2Otis was sound asleep - that is, until the noise of the early morning garbage truck caused him to stir and look about. A quick yawn and he was back asleep, still nestled against the wall.

It’s not unusual for a seal pup, particularly a thinner one, to spend many hours on shore before returning to the water. And so, H2Otis spent the entire morning there. We had no reason for particular concern for his health - other than needing to pack on some pounds - because he exhibited no symptoms of distress. Around noon, he made a decisive move toward the Sound and we were relieved that he was returning to forage. A pup coming and going from the water is a good sign.

However, after resting for some time halfway to the water’s edge, he started his trek again, but began having seizures. We realized something was horribly wrong. Plans were quickly put into place for a rescue. A call was placed to PAWS Wildlife Center in Lynnwood to make sure they could accept him for treatment. First responders examined the pup, but he was largely unresponsive. PAWS recommended we bring him in for humane euthanasia (if necessary). There was very little hope he could survive, but we did not want him to suffer, potentially for hours, in the hot sun on the beach.

Sadly, H2Otis died en route to the rehab facility. PAWS’ initial exam revealed that H2Otis had multiple small puncture wounds - animal bites - to the head, tongue and rear flipper. These wounds were not noticeable Saturday evening or Sunday morning because of his dark brown coat and lack of blood. Upon closer examination of photos taken in poor and contrasty light on Saturday, faint indications of small wounds can be seen at high magnification. His positioning against the wall made health assessment photos difficult to obtain. So, it seems that he was not attacked Saturday night.

PAWS will perform a necropsy on the male pup to try to determine what species of animal attacked him. It will also help to establish if the wounds were the cause of death or if there were other underlying health issues that were asymptomatic. Thanks so much to PAWS’ staff for offering to necropsy the pup. We will update with the findings as soon as they become available.

We are just heartbroken and stunned by this unforeseen outcome. Seal Sitters volunteers and a respectful public can take solace in the fact that we gave H2Otis peace from harassment and disturbance these last hours of his life. This was our privilege and gift to him. He, in turn, gave us a gift that cannot be put into words.

This is a reminder to everyone that each day is a struggle to survive for harbor seal pups, who have a 50% mortality their first year. Always keep your dog leashed near the beach - even the most well-behaved dog can be unpredictable and dangerous to seals. Please Share the Shore - stay back if you see a pup on the beach and call Seal Sitters MMSN @ 206-905-SEAL (7325).

UPDATE: NECROPSY RESULTS 8/26/14
Yesterday, a full necropsy was performed on seal pup H2Otis at PAWS Wildlife Center. Unfortunately, it was inconclusive what species of animal inflicted the numerous bite wounds on the pup. It appears, however, that the punctures were not the cause of death. The male pup was in much worse body condition than anyone realized, with little fat store and no food in his system. It is believed the seizures were caused by hypoglycemia.

3 seal pups in 3 days as pupping season hits our urban shores

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Around 2pm yesterday afternoon, a small harbor seal pup flip-flopped out of Puget Sound’s frigid waters and onto the shore at Lincoln Park. The third reported pup in three days on West Seattle’s shoreline, he (or she) was on the thin side, but alert and moved well back and forth on the beach.

Unlike sea lions, harbor seals can’t rotate their rear flippers to aid in locomotion on land. Though highly acrobatic in the water, they move with a caterpillar-like motion on shore and are much more vulnerable as they seek rest and try to warm up. Never return a seal pup to the water - rest is critical to their survival. Sometimes, they will shiver as they try to regulate their body temperature. This is normal. Never wrap a pup in a towel or blanket - this can cause brain damage or death. It is illegal to touch, move or feed seal pups.

Quickly arriving at the park, Seal Sitters first responders established a perimeter with tape, cones and informational signs and talked to quite a number of people who expressed both interest and support. 6-year-old Alice named the pup Adventure, who settled in for a long nap between the beach logs. Volunteers stood watch in two-hour shifts until darkness fell in the park. Thanks to all the volunteers who put in a very long day yesterday!

Our first responder sought Adventure at 6am this morning, as the pink light of dawn reflected in the still, blue waters of the Sound. Thankfully, the beach was remarkably free from the usual illegally off-leash dogs. A handful of silhouetted fishermen cast their lines in hopes of snaring of one the few remaining cohos making their way north to Admiralty Inlet. The seal pup was no longer in his log hideaway and had not been seen by the fishermen. We assume Adventure returned to the water for a late-night snack or early breakfast - perhaps from mom, but more likely he is weaned and foraging on his own.

Please call our dedicated hotline at 206-905-SEAL (7325) if you see a seal pup (or other marine mammal) on the beach. Having extra eyes on the beach from the public greatly enables Seal Sitters MMSN to give pups the sanctuary they need - and deserve - on shore.

Seal pup comes ashore to rest in West Seattle

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After a 6 week drought in West Seattle with no seal pups, Seal Sitters first responders were getting antsy wondering when we’d get a call. Finally, there was word that a pup had been on the public access beach at Jack Block Park yesterday afternoon about 3pm. Unfortunately, the pup had been scared back into the water. SS volunteers searched the area in case the pup had sought another nearby location, but to no avail.

At approximately 6pm, our dedicated hotline 206-905-7325 (SEAL) rang with a report that the pup had returned again to that same small beach. The pup came ashore less than 50 feet from some people flying kites on the pebbled shore. Seal Sitters’ first responder arrived on the scene within minutes and quickly closed off access and began a health assessment through observation with binoculars. The sidewalk above the resting pup was cordoned off to lessen disturbance. The small, thin pup promptly fell asleep in the waning sunlight.

A call was placed to our volunteer scheduler for the day who checked the online calendar to see what volunteers had entered time for the evening. There she found listed brand new volunteers Laura and Chris, who enthusiastically arrived to assist in their first experience protecting a seal pup.

The park was quite busy last evening and volunteers had an opportunity to share info with a number of interested people. Among those, were 8-year old Jack and his 4-year old brother Charlie who were fascinated by the slumbering pup, who occasionally stretched and yawned , and named him Francis - after the patron saint known for protecting all animals. This little pup could use a little extra blessing to help him (or her) pack on some much-needed blubber for warmth and energy.

More than 90% of all the seal pups in South Puget Sound have been born and a high percentage are already weaned. Based on body weight and condition, we believe that Francis is most likely a weaner. However, it its difficult to estimate age without confirmation of how many teeth have erupted. Weaned at only 4-6 weeks, pups then must fend for themselves with no mom for support. It can be a difficult transition. They can lose quite a bit of weight in a short time and must turn things around quickly to avoid the 50% mortality faced in their first year.

Francis was still sleeping on the beach at 9pm and volunteers left as the Port Police came through the Park and then locked the entry gate. Seal Sitters’ first responder checked the shore at 6am this morning when the park reopened and Francis was gone - hopefully, out grabbing a big breakfast of small fish and squid! We anticipate the pup will be back on shore today, trying to rest and warm up. If you see a pup onshore, please call our hotline ASAP and stay back. Undisrupted rest is critical for all seal pups’ survival.

PUPDATE 8/22 morning
Francis came ashore briefly around 8 am, but returned to Elliott Bay. We observed a seal pup foraging offshore throughout the day, but can’t say for sure if it was indeed Francis or another pup feasting on small fish.

Rash of illegal pickups of seal pups prompts investigations

Harbor seal pupping season is well underway in South Puget Sound - and virtually all outer coast and inland Washington waterways. Seal haulouts are brimming with harbor seal moms and pups. Nursing age and newly weaned pups are resting along our shorelines, both in rural and urban areas. The West Coast Marine Mammal Stranding Network across the Pacific Northwest does our best to spread the word to “leave seal pups alone”. However, each season brings with it more cases of human interference, too often with drastic consequences for the animals.

Don’t touch seal pups - it is a violation of Federal and State Law. All marine mammals are protected from harassment by both the Federal Marine Mammal Protection Act (punishable by fines up to $10,000 and one year in jail) and Washington State law RCW 77.15.130 (a criminal misdemeanor, mandatory court appearance, punishable with up to 90 days in jail and up to $1000 fine).

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Recently, there has been a rash of illegal pickups and handling of harbor seals. In one case, a pup was wrapped in a blanket, causing him to overheat and die. In another incident, human interference caused abandonment and the pup was forced into a rehab facility.

These cases and others are being investigated for prosecution by NOAA Office for Law Enforcement and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Enforcement.

COMMON MISTAKES THAT CAN RESULT IN HARM TO SEAL PUPS (AND ARE UNDER PENALTY OF LAW):

  • DON’T TOUCH. Seals, like all wild animals, can transmit disease to humans and dogs - and vice versa. A frightened animal will bite and can cause a serious bacterial infection.
  • DON’T MOVE. A nursing pup will starve if mom cannot find her pup where she left him.
  • DON’T FEED. A seal pup’s digestive system is designed for mom’s milk only while nursing (other foods can cause great harm - even after weaning).
  • DON’T COVER. Wrapping in a blanket or cloth can cause brain damage and death as pups try to regulate their body temperature. Shivering is not uncommon.
  • DON’T PUT PUPS BACK IN THE WATER. Seal pups need to rest and warm up out of the water. This is critical to their survival. All seals spend roughly 50% of their day on shore. Don’t worry about the tide - a pup can swim immediately after birth.
  • DON’T LET DOGS NEAR SEAL PUPS. Disease can be transmitted. Disturbance can cause abandonment. Each year, dogs kill or seriously injure seal pups.

We can’t stress enough that while pups may look vulnerable alone on the beach, be assured that most likely there is no cause for alarm. If a pup is not strong enough to swim for great lengths, he sometimes rests onshore while mom observes from the waters nearby. Because there is no mom in sight does not mean the pup is abandoned. Stay back and observe quietly from a distance. Keep dogs leashed and away. Adult seals are wary and any perceived threat or disturbance by humans and dogs can indeed cause abandonment. Respect seals’ space and share the shore by giving them a wide berth.

If you have concerns about the health or safety of a seal, call NOAA’s hotline @ 1-866-767-6114. For a seal pup (or other marine mammal) onshore in urban West Seattle, please call the Seal Sitters hotline @ 206-905- SEAL (7325).

Please click here to read NOAA’s “Share the Shore with Harbor Seal Pups” Public Service Announcement about seal pups - a clear and precise resource about their behavior, biology and NOAA’s rehabilitation policies.

Seal Sitters new volunteer training scheduled for August

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Seal Sitters Marine Mammal Stranding Network’s final training for the 2014 seal pupping season will take place on August 9th. There will be no further trainings until late fall due to time constraints on volunteers.

Last year’s record-breaking pupping season stats in West Seattle (from late July’s first response to a newborn seal pup to the end of the year’s weaned pups) included 163 responses to marine mammals, including 66 positively identified seal pups. For a summary of 2013’s activities,
click here.

This 2014 season has begun unusually early in West Seattle with responses to one full
lanugo seal pup “Luigi”, a second premature pup, and full-term “Junebug” who is now in rehab at PAWS Wildlife Center.

TRAINING DATE:
Saturday morning, August 9, 2014
Time:
10am - 12pm (doors open at 9:30am)
*please note: Plan to arrive early to register and receive paperwork - training begins promptly at 10
Location:
Alki UCC Church 6115 SW Hinds, Seattle (map it)
***A FEW SPOTS OPEN DUE TO LAST MINUTE CANCELLATIONS. Please contact us if you’d like to attend the training.

*Note to parents: All children accompanying adults must be able to sit quietly through an almost two hour presentation (with break).

Seal Sitters MMSN holds several special trainings a year for those wanting to protect marine mammals year-round along the shoreline of West Seattle and the Duwamish River. We are a very active network and have volunteers who travel from around the area to participate. However, if you live out of the West Seattle area and would like to find a stranding network closer to where you live, click here.

Unlike most marine mammal stranding networks, we encourage children to participate in Seal Sitters - supervised at all times, of course, by a parent or guardian. We are so proud of our amazing and dedicated volunteers who are on duty rain or shine - we hope you will join us!
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A multi-media presentation will illustrate our educational work in the community and the unique challenges of protecting seals and other marine mammals in an urban environment. Included in the training is an overview of
NOAA's West Coast Marine Mammal Stranding Network and biology and behavior of seals and other pinnipeds (due to time frame, supplementary off-season sessions will include more marine mammals of Puget Sound).

For additional questions and info or to be placed on a contact list for future training opportunities, please
email us.

Seal art crafts highlight booth at Alki Art Fair

                   

Seal Sitters’ booth buzzed with activity at this weekend’s Alki Art Fair held along the Alki Promenade (see video). Volunteers worked in shifts, distributing stickers and educational materials, and talked to 535 inquisitive people. Adjacent to the booth was our activity table, where kids (and adults) created works of art - origami seals with colorful spots and flippered paper cup versions.

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Thanks to all the enthusiastic volunteers who had a blast despite chilly and sometimes wet conditions these past two days, including University of Washington seniors Tayler and Ana (photo). Special kudos to Ana who raised enough money from friends and family to produce “Share the Shore” t-shirts as volunteer incentive rewards and for fundraising purposes. Way to go, Ana!

And speaking of fundraising, Alki Spud Fish & Chips donated $1 to Seal Sitters for each cup of clam chowder purchased this weekend. Lots of people sipped on the restaurant’s piping-hot delicacy in the cool, drizzly weather and raised money for Seal Sitters’ many operating expenses. Thanks so much to Alki Spud’s staff and management!

As long-time volunteer and scheduler Lynn J remarked while on duty today, it’s hard to beat volunteering for a group that spends time hanging out on the beach with awesome seals and awesome people.

We hope you’ll join us for Seal Sitters’ last training of the 2014 seal pupping season Saturday morning, August 9th (see details in post below - and make sure the RSVP to the included link).

Buy a chowder during Art Fair and help seal pup Spud's buds

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In 2007, a tiny seal pup flopped ashore on the sandy beach almost directly across from Alki Spud Fish and Chips (2666 Alki Ave SW - map it). Concerned residents banded together to protect this vulnerable pup and nicknamed him Spud. This loosely formed group grew to be known as Seal Sitters.

Now a full-fledged member of NOAA’s Marine Mammal Stranding Network with many operating expenses, Alki Spud Fish and Chips is helping Seal Sitters continue to help new generations of seal pups. All-volunteer Seal Sitters MMSN receives no funding from NOAA, the State or City for our work.

Spud’s restaurant (Alki location only) is offering a promotion that will donate $1 for every chowder purchased this weekend during the Alki Art Fair, July 19-20th. Spread the word to friends and family to chow down on some delicious chowder. Thanks so much to Spud Fish and Chips!

Seal Sitters MMSN depends on public donations. Can’t participate in the promotion this weekend, but would like to help us out financially? You can make a donation here.

STOP BY SEAL SITTERS BOOTH AND ACTIVITY TABLE
If you attend the Fair, make sure to swing by Seal Sitters’ booth along the Alki Promenade, where volunteers will be on duty answering questions and distributing educational materials. The Alki Art Fair is always a fun and lively event with lots of music, great art and food.

Like last year, we’ll have craft activities for kids as well as free stickers and coloring sheets. Seal Sitters’ first responder (and architectural illustrator) Lynn Shimamoto and her 7-year-old granddaughter Eleanor created some fantastic origami and paper cup seals which children can reproduce, adding their own whimsical touches.

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Volunteers take blubber love to the streets

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Seal Sitters Marine Mammal Stranding Network volunteers are staffing a table at the ever-popular West Seattle Summer Fest this weekend at the Admiral Junction.

Over the course of Friday and Saturday, with temperatures soaring into the high 80’s, they swigged cold water and spritzed with hand fans as they talked to 249 adults and children who stopped by. Volunteers like Denise and Pam (in photo) answered questions and let folks know that harbor seal pupping season has begun in South Puget Sound.

Huge flipper hugs to SS event gurus David and Eilene and all the volunteers who are braving the heat to spread some blubber love and give out free stickers to kids! Please stop by our table at the GreenLife Demo Area today.

Next weekend July 19-20, Seal Sitters will be at the Alki Art Fair. First Responder and talented artist Lynn will lead craft activities for kids at our booth. We hope to see you there!

"Share the Shore" this holiday weekend

Independence Day 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. Whenever possible, please stay 100 yards away from harbor seals (NOAA recommendation), including haulouts, many of which are now rookeries full of pregnant females and newborn pups. Disturbance often has drastic consequences. Newborn pups are not ready for “independence” until they have been weaned at least 4-6 weeks old.

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

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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). All marine mammals are protected by federal law (the MMPA) from harassment. Please, “Share the Shore” with wildlife! Read related post about disturbance here.

It is not unusual to see a harbor seal pup alone on the beach. It doesn’t mean the pup is abandoned. Sometimes, a young pup is not strong enough to go foraging with mom for hours. In most cases, the mother seal will return later. Stay back, keep dogs leashed and notify your local stranding network if you have concerns.

No new information has been released about the recent seal killing near Grayland Beach on the Washington Coast. A reward has been offered in the case, the second brutal killing of a harbor seal in a month.

Pup responding well in rehab

(SEE LATEST PUPDATE END OF STORY)
Junebug, the dehydrated and thin newborn harbor seal pup taken to rehab on Tuesday afternoon, is doing well at PAWS Wildlife Center. Emily Meredith, Wildlife Rehabilitation Manager, reported yesterday morning that Junebug was “nice and bitey” after his first night of care - this feistiness is a good sign. On intake, the pup was given fluids for hydration and antibiotics for a swollen puncture wound on one of his front flippers. His chin was also scuffed up from sharp barnacle-covered rocks.

We just received word this afternoon that Junebug is responding well to his treatment and his wounds are healing. However, he still has a long road ahead of him. He needs to gain weight and pack on a thick layer of blubber to provide energy and warmth in the wild. He also needs to learn to eat solid food and how to hunt live prey. Learning to catch fish in a small rehab pool is vastly different than foraging for fish in the wide expanse of Puget Sound.

If Junebug manages to survive the lengthy rehab stay (his health is still tenuous), he will be released near a harbor seal haul-out, where hundreds of seals of all ages gather to rest and forage. There is no guarantee about his success post-release since his mom was not around to teach him all about how to be a harbor seal. It is the hope that Junebug will assimilate into a seal colony where there is safety in numbers and he can learn foraging and social skills from other seals.

PUPDATE (July 7, 2014)
We’re elated to report that Junebug continues to fare well in rehab. He has gained a bit of weight and is spending his days lounging on his pool pad, “swimming at his leisure”.

Seal pup taken to rehab after rescue from rocks

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A young girl named Ivy noticed a seal pup on the rocks below the Duwamish Head pier around 10:30 this morning. Her dad called the Seal Sitters hotline and first responder Lynn arrived minutes later. A woman with two children who also called in a report helped keep people back as Lynn swiftly stretched yellow tape between “Do Not Enter” signs and cones.

With the area finally secured, volunteers had a chance to observe the pup’s behavior and body condition. He was identified as Junebug by comparing facial markings of photos taken yesterday afternoon when the pup had rested along the Alki seawall. He was forced into the Sound by the surging tide around 6pm.

It appears that the pup swam to this location last evening, but was not visible to volunteers searching the beach. This morning, it became obvious that the pup was wedged in the jagged rocks - above the tideline, but not for long as the tide would be coming back in at a much higher level. Junebug tried, but could not free himself as much as he struggled. We knew we needed to pluck the pup from the rocks - to save him from exposure in the expected 90 degree heat and potential drowning at high tide.

Junebug’s body weight also looked noticeably thinner than that of a nursing pup with attending mom. After consultation with NOAA’s stranding expert and WDFW’s marine mammal biologist, it was determined that the dehydrated pup was likely abandoned at this very urban location. He was taken to PAWS Wildlife Center for assessment and admitted into rehab. Junebug is a full-term male pup who is between 5-8 days old and it is estimated that he had not been fed for at least 3 days.

Rehabilitation of harbor seal pups is a very lengthy and costly endeavor. Since Junebug is so young, he could be at PAWS for months. If you’d like to help PAWS defray costs for giving this pup and others a second chance to survive in the wild, please make a donation here.

Huge thanks to our colleagues at NOAA, WDFW and PAWS. We will keep you posted with updates on Junebug’s progress.

PUPDATE (7/3/14)
Junebug is faring pretty well so far in rehab. Please see July 3rd post for details.
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