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Seal pup spends restful day with city skyline view

Gazing out her condo window with its panoramic view of the Seattle skyline, West Seattle resident Connie was startled to see a small seal crawl ashore on the pocket beach below her. Grabbing her coat and camera, she dashed across Harbor Avenue to make sure no one scared the pup back into Elliott Bay before Seal Sitters could arrive. She immediately called our hotline @ 206-905-SEAL(7325).

Upon arrival, SSMMSN first responders taped of access to the small cove. The bright white pup stretched and yawned and settled in for a few zzzz’s. Close to the sea wall and sidewalk, passersby had a perfect view of the gorgeous pup on what was finally a rain-free afternoon, following a torrential morning downpour.

Nicknamed Snow Cone, the seemingly healthy pup rested as Seal Sitters educated the public, including the periodic stream of Water Taxi commuters, and kept watch in shifts throughout the day and evening at this very scenic location. Divers were allowed through the far opposite end of the cove to access a popular dive site.

Around 8pm, with the skyline lights shimmering across the bay, Snow Cone returned to the dark waters for a late dinner and volunteers dispersed for their own late dinners. Thanks to the volunteers, some of whom are shown above, for keeping the pup safe.

Seal pup rescued and transported for stabilization

Yesterday morning, Seal Sitters First Responders Robin and Dana rushed to a small public access beach next to the Fauntleroy ferry booths. Hotline operator Emily had received a report of a harbor seal pup that appeared sick or injured.

Upon arrival, the concerned couple who had called the hotline pointed out the pup, near the tideline just north of the dock. Tape was stretched across the sand to establish a restricted zone around the vulnerable seal who was having seizures. A call was urgently placed to PAWS Wildlife Center, the NOAA-approved treatment facility for our region.

The surrounding area within feet of the pup had numerous large dog prints. Imagine the stress - and panic - of this sick pup, a prey animal, immobile and unable to escape a perceived threat.

The pup was gently placed into a transport kennel and driven to the Lynnwood clinic for stabilization and treatment. The initial veterinary exam revealed that the he had a number of health issues, not the least of which was possible pneumonia and lung worm infection. Fall and winter months are extremely challenging for weaned pups, who are often thin and susceptible to parasites and viruses.

The young male survived the night, but still has a difficult road ahead. At last report, the pup was stabilized, but “very sick.”

Identification photos taken on the beach were compared with those of seal pups in this year’s database. He was positively identified as Pepper, who had been observed sleeping on Alki Beach late Friday night in a downpour. Pepper was gone at first light the following morning. We will provide updates on the pup as we receive more information.

Wind storm aftermath brings wave of seal pups

On Friday afternoon, a serious wind storm whipped and churned Puget Sound waters into a frenzy. Waves crashed over the sea walls along Beach Drive, leaving debris in its wake. Thankfully, harbor seals can actually sleep in the water when need be and will often ride out storms by bottom resting, rising to the surface every 25 minutes or so for a breath of air and returning to the sea bottom. This, instead of hauling out on shore and being battered by wind, rain and surf.

Often, following a storm of this nature, we see an increase in seal pups seeking rest on the beach, warming up out of the cold waters. Late Friday night, as the winds calmed down, a small pup slept in the dark at Alki Beach, but was gone when our first responder checked about 5:40am.

Saturday, before the much-anticipated remnants of a Pacific typhoon was expected to power thru our region mid-late afternoon, there was a brief lull in the winds. True to form, the day was busy for seal responses.

Around 11am, the hotline called to report a seal pup near the West Seattle water taxi landing. Our responder arrived within minutes to find a pup sleeping soundly in a soft rain on the pebbled beach. She quickly closed off access to the small cove with yellow tape and informational signage.

A call was placed to Volunteer Scheduler, Arden, who checked the online calendar and began making calls to those who had entered time for the day. New volunteers Cathy (who admirably also volunteers at PAWS), 5 1/2 year old Mia and her mom Erin (shown at left) donned rain gear and enthusiastically arrived for duty at the cove.

Volunteers chatted among themselves and with a surprising number of passersby, despite increasing rain and winds as the day went on. The pup, nicknamed Sea Glass, was able to sleep peacefully except for a brief, but persistent harassment by a juvenile sea gull. The feisty pup defended his territory and the gull finally moved on.

We also received a report mid-day that a seal pup was resting near the Fauntleroy ferry dock, but our first responder who was on the scene within 15 minutes found none.

Eventually, Sea Glass flop-hopped across the glistening pebbles and into the cozy nook of a large tree trunk on the beach (photo above). Sheltered from the increasing wind gusts and rain, he slept comfortably until dark. Around 6:20 the wind and rain hit with a vengeance and volunteers sought cover. Sea Glass returned to the Sound around 8:30 and the signage and tape was removed from the cove entrance.

Two seal pups and outreach keep volunteers busy

Yesterday morning, on her way to lend a hand with set up of Seal Sitters’ booth at the Summer Parkways event on Alki, our first responder instead made a priority detour towards the Fauntleroy ferry, responding to a report from the hotline of a seal on the beach.

Upon her arrival, she saw a thin pup at the base of the ferry dock pilings and three off-leash dogs playing in the surf a couple hundred yards away. Briskly, she began stretching yellow tape between driftwood and stakes, with signs warning that harbor seals need rest to survive and “Do Not Enter”. Thankfully, the dogs’ owners did not approach.

Volunteers arrived to help out and, over the course of the next hour and a half, passersby and neighbors were excited to be able to see the fuzzy gray pup who snoozed in the shadows. This included two great young girls who watched through binoculars with their mom. They christened the pup Cooper.

As the tide crept in and reached the sleeping pup, Cooper reluctantly swam off in the cold waters of the cove, where another pup had been seen off and on lingering offshore. We hope they went off in search of a nutritious Sunday brunch of squid, threespine stickleback and gunnel.

Late in the day, the hotline rang again: this time, a pup was sleeping on the public boat ramp at Don Armeni Park. Our responder was on the scene within minutes and, sure enough, a pup was zonked out on the crushed shell and sand part of one cement lane. Someone had kindly put three cones at the top of the ramp to warn the public not to enter and a handful of people were quietly watching from a distance.

Again, signboards and cones with stakes were placed strategically around the area and yellow tape was strung to establish a safety zone. Other volunteers arrived shortly and began talking to curious and excited observers. A spotting scope was set up so folks could get a closer look at the pup, who dozed comfortably. Thru the scope, it was noticed that the pup had a wound on his/her rear flipper.

Only a couple of boats launched and retrieved while the pup slept. The owners were more than happy to use the opposite dock to come and go. Thank you, boaters!

The onlookers were quite respectful and quiet - a good thing since harbor seals have excellent hearing. The sudden noise of the hand dryer in the nearby public bathroom disrupted the slumber. Roaring motorcycles and increasing traffic on Harbor Avenue startled the pup, who began stretching and yawning - often an indication that a pup will start a return to the water.

Soon after, Skipper (nicknamed by new volunteer Heather) began the trek to the tideline. Because of the open wound on his/her flipper, the rear end was high in the air the length of the journey (photo above). Salt water has great healing properties and there is an excellent chance the wound will heal on its own. Skipper disappeared into Elliott Bay’s silvery waters search of dinner.

Volunteers waited to make sure Skipper didn’t return before removing materials and heading home for our own dinners. Be assured, Seal Sitters will be keeping a close eye on Skipper if the pup returns to our shores to rest.

Should you see either pup - or any others - on shore, please make sure to call Seal Sitters’ dedicated hotline at 206-905 SEAL (7325).

Seal Sitters talks to over 300 at Summer Parkways

Great weather brought out scores of people to enjoy the City of Seattle’s Summer Parkways event at Alki Beach on Sunday. Seal Sitters staffed a booth which featured educational materials, including seal pelts and skull. People who stopped by to talk with volunteers were fascinated to examine baleen from both a gray and fin whale. They learned that harbor seal pupping season is in full swing in South and Central Puget Sound.

Volunteers Lynn and Diana sketched marine mammal drawings in chalk on the street. The life-size outline of a 39-foot humpback whale (the size of the juvenile that stranded recently in West Seattle) drew lots attention and questions. At an art table beside the booth, children doodled bright crayons on coloring sheets with marine mammal themes.

Throughout the course of the day, Seal Sitters talked to 305 adults and children - a job well done to spread education about marine mammals, the health of our marine ecosystem and the work of the West Coast Marine Mammal Stranding Network, of which Seal Sitters MMSN is a partner. Thanks to the many volunteers who spent the day making our outreach possible.

Banners go up along Alki as a reminder to Share the Shore

As you drive, walk, skate or bike along Alki Avenue, you can’t help but notice Seal Sitters’ festive and educational “Share the Shore” banners hanging from street poles. Seal Sitters initiated the project as part of a Department of Neighborhoods grant for educational outreach in the West Seattle community in 2011.

The 10 banners, featuring a graphic illustration of a harbor seal pup, are displayed annually along the popular stretch of sandy Alki Beach - often busy with hundreds of people enjoying volleyball, frisbee, kayaking, biking and picnicking; the same Alki Beach where tired seal pups haul out to try to find a quiet place to rest.

In such an urban environment, it is a challenge for SSMMSN volunteers to keep them safe from harassment and harm.
The message “Share the Shore” is to reinforce that wildlife needs to - and is entitled to - use shoreline for resting and foraging. We should always allow them the sufficient space to do so, as it is critical in their struggle to survive.

Seattle Parks and Recreation employee, James Lohman, is shown installing the street banners, which serve to remind residents and visitors that we are in the midst of pupping season in our area. September and October are typically our busiest response months in South and Central Puget Sound, as pups strike out on their own from area rookeries.

The banner artwork is by New York illustrator Nancy Stahl, based on a photograph of seal pup Shanti by SSMMSN Lead Investigator Robin Lindsey.

If you do come across a resting seal or sea lion on shore or have other marine mammal concerns, please contact Seal Sitters’ hotline at 206-905-SEAL (7325) with as much detailed information as you can provide. Until we can get a responder on the scene, please ask that people stay far back and leash and remove any dogs from the beach.

Download NOAA’s new Share the Shore handout here, with guidelines and species identification.

Seal pup action finally heats up this week

Things finally began to heat up this week for seal pup responses to kick off what is usually Seal Sitters’ busiest time of year, harbor seal pupping season.

Late Friday afternoon, the 2nd, Seal Sitters First Responders David and Eilene were enjoying the drop-dead view of Seattle’s city skyline from Jack Block Park. A couple noticed their cameras and mentioned they had just seen a harbor seal pup crawl up on the beach.

Within minutes, the beach near the pup was closed off to public access with yellow “Protected Marine Mammal” tape. The Sikh couple was asked if they would like to name the pup. They chose Hargobind, a Sikh name that means “a part of God” or “God sustains” and hoped the pup would fare well.

Brand new volunteers Eka and her two young daughters were thrilled to be called to duty to help protect their first pup, sleeping so close to the sidewalk that runs along the beach. Volunteer Ashely came down, too, to talk to passersby. Hargobind was still snoozing on the pebbled beach as darkness fell and the park was closed for the night.

First Responder Robin checked for signs of the pup when the park reopened at 6:30am, but the beach was empty.

On Wednesday, the 7th, First Responder Lynn received a disturbing call from Seal Sitters’ hotline, that a seal pup “missing an eye” was on a beach bordering Lincoln Park. Bracing herself for something horrible, she threw the kennel and capture net in her car in case a rescue was necessary.

She was met onsite by FR David and they were both relieved to find that the pup indeed had both eyes intact. Apparently, the reporting party must have walked up to the pup who was sleeping on his/her side and mistook the ear hole for an eye socket. Harbor seals have no ear flaps and often the public reports “shot” seals, mistaking the ear hole for bullet wounds.

Volunteers were quickly lined up to help out on the beach, including two new young volunteers Thuy and Thuc. Thuc’s little sister Lily named the pup Fly as she peered through the spotting scope that had been set up to allow a closeup view.

Wet sprinkles turned into showers which then turned into rain. As people began to leave the park, there were only a few souls left who stopped to check out the little pup. Fly snoozed until almost 5 and then made the long scoot to the water’s edge and slipped off into Puget Sound.

Seal pup Babs makes a cameo appearance at Alki

A seal pup was onshore briefly this morning. First Responders Robin and Dana followed up on a report of a pup at 64th and Alki. They located the tiny pup resting at the tideline below the cement access steps. Divers who had assembled to traverse the beach at that precise location graciously gathered up their air tanks and entered the Sound further down the beach.

While establishing a perimeter to ensure the pup could rest undisturbed, a call was placed to the day’s volunteer scheduler, who promptly began lining up volunteers for what could potentially be a long day ahead.

The white pup with gray spots was not alone at the water’s edge, however. A seagull was intent on harassment, relentlessly pecking away at the pup’s rear end. After only about an hour and a half, the annoyed pup, nicknamed Babs, swam off in search of a quieter location to rest - one without a pesky seagull!

Seal Sitters new volunteer training a success

On Saturday, the 27th, a new group of enthusiastic volunteers were trained to help keep marine mammals safe. Seal Sitters MMSN holds several special trainings a year for those wanting to protect marine mammals 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.

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 proud of our dedicated volunteers who are on duty rain or shine - we hope you, too, will join us!

For questions OR to be placed on a contact list for future Seal Sitters training opportunities, please email us. Seal Sitters MMSN does not hold trainings during the height of our pupping season late August - October due to time constraints on volunteers responding to marine mammals. If you live out of the West Seattle area and would like to find a stranding network closer to where you live, click here.

Seal pup repeatedly harrassed while trying to rest

Adding to a stretch of busy marine mammal responses the past few weeks by Seal Sitters MMSN, we received reports after the fact of people harassing a seal pup at a popular viewpoint park in West Seattle.

On Friday, the hotline received a call that someone was repeatedly “poking” a harbor seal pup on the beach. Our first responder was on the scene in record time, but both the seal and offender were gone. The seal did not return.

Photos of a seal pup resting at the same location were taken and posted the following Tuesday evening on the West Seattle Blog. The photographer commented that he had to warn people to leave the pup alone. Unfortunately, no one called the Seal Sitters’ hotline that day to ensure the pup’s safety.

SSMMSN’s first responders were out early on Wednesday morning, checking the beach to see if the seal might be onshore. The sand was empty, but they could see a glossy little head about 100 yards out from the pier, where the pup appeared to be foraging. The pup came ashore around 10am, nestling in the barnacle covered rocks below the sea wall (photo above). Access to the small pocket beach was promptly closed off with tape and informational signage that seals are protected by Federal law from harassment and harm.

Seal Sitters volunteers worked in shifts to answer questions from the public, educating hundreds about seal pups’ urgent need for rest against just 50% odds of survival their first year. The pup, nicknamed Seamor by a young volunteer, snoozed for many hours in the warm sun. As evening approached, the incoming tide and a large series of waves from a passing ferry headed for Bainbridge Island, swept over Seamor and the pup reluctantly headed out into the Sound.

Someone mentioned witnessing a person “lying on top” of the pup the day before. When the person finally got up and off, the frightened seal escaped into the water.

If you witness a marine mammal illegally being harassed, please take a photo to document the incident (do not put yourself at risk!) and contact NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement @ 1-800-853-1964. In West Seattle, please call Seal Sitters, a member of NOAA’s West Coast Marine Mammal Stranding Network, first so we can get on the scene.

Seamor returned to the small beach about 11am on Thursday, where Seal Sitters had been waiting patiently, anticipating the pup’s arrival. Once again, the area around the pup was secured so that he/she could rest as undisturbed as possible in a very busy urban location. On the street above, busses and motorcycles roared by. Not-so-considerate beach visitors cruised back and forth in cars, blasting music at ear-shattering decibels.

Somehow, though all the human chaos, Seamor did manage to get some sleep and rested under the watchful eye of Seal Sitters and rapt onlookers who peered into the spotting scope, allowing a closeup view of the white-coated pup. Around 9pm on this stunning evening, as the sun dropped behind the silhouette of the Olympic Mountains, Seamor finally flopped across the beach and disappeared into waves.

On Friday, expecting the pup’s return to that northernmost point of West Seattle, volunteers stood by. However, the area was busy with people walking and standing along the sea wall and there was very little beach to rest upon. We sighted a seal head glimmering offshore. Then, to our surprise, Seamor hauled out over 1/2 mile around the bend. Volunteers once again protected the beautiful little pup who snoozed until after 9pm. After waiting about 20 minutes to make sure there was no return trip to shore, tired volunteers gathered up stranding materials and finally went home to eat a very late dinner.

Seamor seems to be a pretty healthy pup, estimated to be about 4 weeks old and recently weaned. Wet rings around the eyes indicated that the pup is well-hydrated. The health of a pup can quickly take a downturn if not allowed to rest. Please make sure to call Seal Sitters hotline @ 206-905-SEAL (7325) promptly if you see a seal pup - or any marine mammal - onshore.

Humpback whale strands and dies on West Seattle beach

The last thing Seal Sitters MMSN (SSMMSN) hotline operator Kristen and First Responder Robin were anticipating early Sunday morning was a call about a “distressed baby whale” in Fauntleroy Cove. Headed to her car, Robin texted MMSN partner Cascadia Research to inquire if they had heard any reports of a whale by the ferry dock.

Fully expecting to see a harbor porpoise, often mistaken for a whale calf, the responder was stunned on arrival to see a partially submerged juvenile humpback about 30 feet from shore. Immediately, she texted Cascadia and WDFW Marine Mammal Investigations that we had a live whale stranding in West Seattle. The next text was to Seal Sitters First Responders to gather buckets and sheets. Our volunteer scheduler for the day, Arden, began making calls to line up volunteers for what would undoubtedly be a very long day.

A crowd had already begun to gather on the ferry dock above the beach. After updating concerned onlookers and West Seattle Blog editor Tracy Record that whale stranding experts were on the way, she tossed orange cones, signs and stakes over the side and dropped down over the railing, to begin establishing a perimeter on the shore to keep people at bay. A large whale stranding in an urban area attracts huge crowds and she knew media would be on the scene imminently.

SSMMSN volunteers began arriving and donned Seal Sitters blue vests identifying themselves as members of NOAA’s Marine Mammal Stranding Network. Several Whale Trail volunteers pitched in as well to help keep the public informed as events unfolded. There were lots of questions from distraught observers lining the ferry dock walkway and on the private beach below.

Thankfully, the morning was overcast and cool. However, as the tide receded there would be a need to keep the thin whale wet and as comfortable as possible. That would most likely involve a line of volunteers passing buckets of water once the animal was fully exposed.

The fervent hope was that the animal was healthy enough to return to the Sound with the incoming tide many hours later - but breathing was already becoming less pronounced.

The Cascadia team, led by stranding coordinator Jessie Huggins, arrived along with Jeff Hogan, orca researcher and executive director of Killer Whale Tales. The two waded out into waist-deep water with buckets (photo above). They cautiously approached the whale, fully aware that one flick of the approximate 11-foot long, white pectoral fins or tail fluke could send them to the hospital, or worse. Due to their large size and the stressful situation they are in, live stranded whales pose a very real risk to First Responders.

Spreading sheets over the massive back, being careful that the blow hole was not covered so the whale could breathe, they then settled into a repetitive routine of pouring buckets of water to hydrate, pausing briefly in between to comfort the animal. They were joined in the water by MaST stranding team’s Kaddee Lawrence.

WDFW-MMI’s team, led by Dyanna Lambourn, was on site to assist with stranding response and necropsy, if necessary. Cascadia’s research scientist, John Calambokidis, made the drive from Olympia. John and NOAA Fisheries’ Lynne Barre fielded questions from the Seattle Times, West Seattle Blog, West Seattle Herald and every major local tv network.

Sadly, the efforts were in vain and the whale died at approximately 10:30am.

The death of the whale set into motion the next set of complications - how to move a 39 foot animal weighing approximately 15,000 lbs. The goal was to find a suitable location to perform a necropsy. Such an exam would help determine if there were underlying health issues that contributed to the emaciation.

The first recorded humpback whale stranding in Puget Sound took place at the end of December, 2015. This juvenile would be the third stranding in less than a year (click here to find out the definition of a “stranding”). However, humpback sightings have increased in the Sound, so along with more sightings, comes the potential for more strandings. The biologists were intent on getting samples to see if there was any significant disease or contaminant trend.

Finally, after hours trying to deal with the complications - and expense - of towing and finding an appropriate site, it was decided the best option was to do a limited necropsy on the beach. The Cascadia and WDFW-MMI team worked quickly with an incoming tide, taking measurements, tissue, blood, fecal and blubber samples. Based on length, the female whale’s age was estimated as a juvenile, between 1.5 - 3 years old.

The whale was in poor body condition, with whale lice infestation and a parasite load in the intestinal tract. A weakened whale is an easy mark for harassment by transients orcas and there was evidence of orca rake wounds. For more details of the limited necropsy findings, visit Cascadia’s Facebook page.

Following the necropsy, the whale was towed by Washington State Ferry (WSF) workers and secured temporarily to the dock. On Tuesday morning, following a tow to an undisclosed location in the Sound, the carcass will be sunk and become a rich source of nourishment for varied marine life.

This terribly sad event was a well-choreographed team effort by many member groups of the Marine Mammal Stranding Network. We want to thank the homeowners, on whose beach the whale stranded, for their generosity throughout the day and evening. And special thanks to the WSF staff for their support on this challenging task and providing staff and vessels to move the whale.

Thanks to the volunteers who put in long hours yesterday, answering questions and keeping people back, enabling the biologists to do their work more efficiently. Seal Sitters volunteer Buzz Shaw, retired zoologist from the Seattle Aquarium, ended up with a unique keepsake. Upon arriving home last evening, he discovered the sheet he contributed to the cause was crawling with whale lice. Today, he managed to supply seven very happy teachers with whale lice for their classrooms and said, “It was a great way to make something positive out of a whale stranding and death.”

Many onlookers inquired how they can help. Local stranding networks can always use reliable volunteers (MMSN map of response areas here).

Seal Sitters Marine Mammal Stranding Network responds to reports of all marine mammals along West Seattle shoreline. We will be holding our final volunteer training session for this season (the height of harbor seal pupping season in our area is September and October) on Saturday, August 27.

To learn more about the training and to RSVP, click here.
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