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Seal pup Hope thriving in rehab for return to the wild

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Rehabilitated seal pup Hope may soon be returning home to the wild waters of Puget Sound. Assuming she passes her release physical, she could be swimming free as early as this week. Just over a month ago, Hope was rescued from a West Seattle beach by Seal Sitters.

A very chubby Hope, markedly more robust than when captured, is shown at right, resting poolside at PAWS Wildlife Center.

Upon capture by first responders, the small female was covered in bite wounds - 22 in all - from an unknown animal (see photo below). Thankfully, the punctures were not deep and infected.


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Hope’s many wounds were cleansed and treated by PAWS’ staff. As she stabilized and improved over the next few days, she also received a course of treatment for lungworms, a potentially serious issue.

Hope was soon moved to her very own outdoor pool, gradually packing on weight and a thick layer of blubber which will keep her warm and sustain her while she adapts to life back in the wild.

Rough winter for West Seattle seal pups as another succumbs

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Winter has brought not only occasional snow flurries, but a rather steady flurry of weaned harbor seal pups, struggling to survive the cold and wet months here in the Pacific Northwest. Early in the morning of February 8th at West Seattle’s Alki Beach, Seal Sitters rescued a seal pup with bloody mucous oozing from her mouth.

A pup had been reported in the same location two evenings earlier, but was gone when First Responder David arrived minutes after the call. Late that night, the pup came back ashore; however, the beach was empty once again at 6am. Later that afternoon, the hotline received another call. First Responder Melinda made her way to the beach in very slushy conditions after a winter storm hit Seattle and nicknamed the pup Slushpuppy. With the help of volunteers, she taped off access to the area around the small, alert seal. After about an hour, blood was seen drooling from the pup’s face, but shortly thereafter a surprisingly nimble Slushpuppy scooted over a log, across the sand and disappeared into the gray waves.

Photographs revealed significant bloody discharge and plans were set into motion to capture the pup if sighted again. Early Wednesday, a beachcomber called Seal Sitters’ hotline to report Slushpuppy resting near the high tide line a little further down the beach. First Responders Robin and Lynn captured her and made the drive to PAWS. Sadly, Slushpuppy died overnight with severe breathing issues.

A necropsy by WDFW Marine Mammal Investigations revealed that the thin female’s lungs were a “total mess”. Along with multiple small abscesses and ruptures, there was a huge amount of clotted bloody mucous in the trachea and lungs. Lungworm infestation and migration was causing the clotting issues. Parasitic infestation and resulting complications, including pneumonia, is a common and often deadly issue for pups, who struggle with low body weight after weaning. Suppressed immune systems, further compromised by long, wet winters, allow parasites to take hold and wreak havoc on lungs and hearts.

Please, do give seal pups space on the beach to rest and warm up undisturbed - it is truly a matter of life and death.

Bittersweet news about West Seattle seal pups in rehab

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Seal Sitters has received a “pupdate” from PAWS Wildlife staff about the two West Seattle harbor seal pups recently transported to the Lynnwood facility for treatment.

We’re elated to report that female seal pup Hope (shown at left, before capture near the Water Taxi landing) is gaining weight and doing pretty well overall.

Hope’s body was riddled with over 20 bite wounds, from an unidentified animal. Barring any unforeseen health issues, she may be released back to the wild waters of Puget Sound in a couple of weeks. That is great news about her new lease on life!

On a very sad note, Wild Thing, the thin male pup rescued by Seal Sitters first responders near Lincoln Park’s Colman Pool on January 21st, took a turn for the worse and died ten days later. In addition to two infected “animal bites” on the chest, Wild Thing’s “guardedly cautious” chance for recovery was compromised by a number of issues. WDFW Marine Mammal Investigations Unit will be performing a necropsy and we will update you with their findings.

NECROPSY FINDINGS
A necropsy by WDFW Marine Mammal Investigations revealed that Wild Thing most likely died from a systemic bacterial infection from a chest wound. Additionally, the pup had a drastically thin blubber layer.

Injured seal pup rescued from Lincoln Park beach

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For the second time in about a week, Seal Sitters MMSN rescued an injured harbor seal pup from a West Seattle beach.

The pup captured this afternoon is the same pup that has been using the shoreline near Lincoln Park’s Colman pool the past couple of days. The pup was first sighted on the pebbled beach early Thursday morning (see post below) and again late yesterday afternoon, just before dark. Both times, the pup returned to the water after resting briefly onshore.

Early this morning, the hotline received a call about a pup hauled out a few yards from Seal Sitters’ permanent signage, posted just north of the public pool. When First Responder Robin arrived, concerned residents, including the reporting party, were standing guard over the alert pup, in the driftwood just feet from the paved pathway. The three women enthusiastically helped stretch tape and signage to provide a safety zone, closing it off to entry and disturbance.

Volunteer scheduler Lynn scrambled to line up volunteers. So many were attending the Women’s March in downtown Seattle today that the online calendar was bare. First Responder Dana came down to lend a hand. Before long, volunteers Jennifer, Elissa, and Buzz arrived to pass out small info handouts and inform passersby that resting out of the water is normal behavior for all seals. Kids were given seal stickers that were promptly stuck on bike helmets and jackets.

Photos taken with a telephoto lens revealed a severely infected wound on the throat of the pup. The images were sent for review to a consulting vet and plans were subsequently put into place to capture the pup and transport for treatment.

First Responder Lynn arrived with capture supplies. Because the pup was positioned so close to the water’s edge and was becoming increasingly alert as time passed, after resting for about 7 hours, the capture was challenging. Volunteers Richard and Brian explained to onlookers the reason for intervening and helped keep the sidewalk area free of a crowd.

The feisty, wriggly pup snapped wildly at Robin and Lynn as they secured him in a net and transferred into a kennel for the drive to PAWS Wildlife Center in Lynnwood. Many a rehabber and responder have been bitten by seals. “Seal finger” is a zoonotic disease that will not heal unless the proper antibiotic is administered quickly.

Seals are wild animals and should be treated respectfully - and carefully - as such. Seals and other marine mammals can transmit a number of serious diseases to humans and dogs. Only members of NOAA’s Marine Mammal Stranding Network are authorized to handle, examine and transport seals.

Seal Sitters will keep you informed as we receive information on the health of this pup, dubbed Wild Thing, after the very spirited capture.

On an encouraging note, seal pup Hope who was rescued last week is doing great at PAWS. She suffered over 20 puncture wounds, most likely inflicted by a dog(s).

PUPDATE 1/22/17
We were able to secure some initial health info from PAWS about the rescued seal pup. Wild Thing, a thin male, thankfully made it through the night, but has a number of concerning issues which are being treated, including infected puncture wounds. We hope to receive a further update tomorrow.

Resting ashore with tides and wind no easy task for seal pup

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Early this morning, a weaned seal pup tried to find a bit of beach to take a snooze, but a relentlessly encroaching tide wasn’t helping. Following up on a report to Seal Sitters’ hotline, First Responder Lynn spotted the pup with the help of a jogger, just a foot from the sea wall at Lincoln Park, unnoticed by many passersby. Afraid establishing a perimeter would disturb and frighten off the pup, Lynn asked people to walk quietly past without stopping.

The wriggly pup stayed about an hour before the lapping waves pulled him/her back into Puget Sound. Followed by two more return trips to shore, he kept trying to find a dry perch. But there was just not enough land to manage any rest. Finally, the pup slipped off into the dark gray water and his silvery head was last sighted headed north off Lowman Beach. Lynn checked all public beach access from there to Constellation Park, where waves battered the shore, and saw no sign of the wandering seal pup.

Thanks to Lynn for literally going the extra mile, trying to protect this very tired pup. We are comparing identification photos to see if the pup is in our current response database or is a new visitor.

Seal pup rescued by stranding team is stable at rehab facility

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For the second early morning in a row, First Responder Lynn whipped on layers of long underwear, fleece and down and headed to a small cove next to the West Seattle Water Taxi. Responding to a call from Seal Sitters’ hotline (206-905-7325) about a seal on shore, thanks to volunteer John who happened to spy the pup on a walk, she found the alert harbor seal pup nestled up next to a large log on the pebbled beach.

The curious pup, estimated 4-6 months old, watched as Lynn closed off the area, stretching yellow tape between orange cones and sandwich boards, around a picnic table and a prickly “sticker” bush, since the ground was too frozen to pound in stakes. Reluctantly removing her glove in the frigid 24 degree air, she speed dialed the Volunteer Scheduler for the day, Jonel, who began lining up Seal Sitters for what could potentially be another long day on the beach. On Wednesday, this same pup nicknamed Hope, did not return to the water until around 5pm, well after dark.

While John and Lynn kept Hope safe from disturbance, First Responder Robin began the process of lining up a health assessment by a NOAA-authorized consulting veterinarian, a recently implemented program to assist stranding networks with on-the-beach evaluations. Handling and transporting an animal for evaluation causes undue stress, which has its own negative impacts. Examinations are only done when there is sufficient cause or concern.

The day before, volunteers noticed the pup had a number of pale bloody spots on her white coat - perhaps Hope had a serious case flipper lice and had been scratching the areas raw. However, in closer review of photos on a computer that evening, things looked suspicious. There was a possibility these were punctures, though difficult to tell in the roughened fur. The only way to know for sure would be a closer examination and we were lucky that the pup had indeed returned for another day of rest.

After consulting with regional coordinator for NOAA’s Marine Mammal Stranding Network, Kristin Wilkinson, a call was placed to PAWS Wildlife Center to ensure the facility could accept the pup for treatment if necessary. The next call was placed to Dr. Lesanna Lahner, consulting vet and Executive Director of the newly-formed SR3, a non-profit dedicated to marine mammal health.

Early in the afternoon, the team of Seal Sitters responders and SR3’s Dr. Lahner and Casey Mclean discussed the next steps, while observing the sleeping pup. As the team approached, the now awake and feisty pup was captured with a net and examined on the beach. Blood oozed from what was definitely many puncture wounds. It was obvious Hope needed to get treatment. Seal Sitters volunteer Bob offered to make the long drive north and transport Hope to PAWS in Lynnwood. Upon arrival, rehabbers stabilized the pup and cleaned out her wounds.

We were stunned to learn that Hope, a female weighing about 34 lbs, had more than 20 puncture wounds on her small body, believed to be from an unidentified animal(s) - possibly canine, but unable to say with any certainty at this time. Thankfully, the bites were not deep and not yet abscessed.

Hope survived the night, but PAWS staff is cautious about her survival, as there are some bleeding issues not really explained by the superficial wounds. The reason for the bleeding continues to be investigated. She has been given a little pool to help keep her hydrated and active and the wounds moist. Hope is also receiving treatment for parasites, common for all weaned seal pups during winter months, which contributed to her occasional coughing spells on the beach and often leads to serious viral conditions.

Seal Sitters will keep you posted about Hope’s condition and any new information that comes to light regarding the cause of the puncture wounds. Thanks to all of the volunteers who protected the little pup during her stay on the beach and to supporting members of NOAA West Coast MMSN who assisted in her rescue. Heartfelt thanks to PAWS for their kind and expert care of wildlife. We hope for this pup’s recovery and release back to the waters of Puget Sound.

PUPDATE 1/19/17
PAWS Wildlife Rehabilitation Manager, Emily Meredith, reports that seal pup Hope is feisty and doing “pretty well.” She’s eating fish on her own in an outdoor pool and has begun treatment for lungworms. The treatment itself poses health risks for animals and rehabbers remain cautiously optimistic about her recovery.

Resting pup causes concern at Harbor Island shipyard

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While the winter is not Seal Sitters’ busiest season, harbor seals, the most common marine mammals in Puget Sound, can show up along area shoreline any time of the year. Weaned pups, often thin and struggling to get through the Pacific Northwest’s cold and damp months, need time out of the water every day to rest and warm up.

On Monday, we had one of our first responses of 2017. Seal Sitters dedicated hotline (206-905-7325) received a report of a seal onshore at Vigor Shipyards. After passing through security, First Responders David and Eilene were escorted to the seal pup’s location on the rocks below the busy shipbuilding and repair facility, situated at the northwest end of heavily industrial Harbor Island, at the mouth of the Duwamish Waterway.

The seal’s condition and behavior were observed and evaluated, seemingly in fairly typical body condition for a pup this time of winter (a few nicks and abrasions and somewhat thin). It should be noted that while pups can appear to be doing reasonably well, their health can deteriorate rapidly within days. Arrangements were made to notify Seal Sitters’ hotline if the seal did not enter the water within 24 hours or a significant injury was observed.

Never hesitate to contact Seal Sitters MMSN with any concerns about marine mammals on shore, alive or dead. Our trained responders will come to the site to evaluate the situation and determine if a seal pup meets NOAA’s requirements to be considered for rehabilitation. In the event of dead animals, an examination is performed whenever possible and information is entered into NOAA’s national database, monitoring the health of marine mammal populations.

Harbor Island and the Duwamish Waterway are on the eastern edge of Seal Sitters MMSN’s territory. View (and download) a map of NOAA’s Marine Mammal Stranding Networks serving Puget Sound, including territories and contact information, here.

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Rain can't dampen Seal Sitters' spirits watching over a seal pup

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Seal Sitters’ First Responder Lynn discovered today that her “5-hour” foot warmers last exactly 5 hours before toes start to tingle. That’s well under the amount of time she spent out in the cold drizzle observing a seal pup, hauled out in the middle of Don Armeni boat launch.

The 3-6 month old pup was discovered asleep on the grooved cement ramp by First Responder David, on his way into downtown Seattle around 7am. The ramp, with its easy access and docks that attract small bait fish, has proven popular with pups over the years and volunteers drive through and check the location on a regular basis. Unfortunately, it is a dangerous destination since cars, trucks and boats - and people walking dogs - regularly pass by and a sleeping or sick pup could easily be injured.

David grabbed cones and barricades out of his car and taped a buffer zone around the area. Lynn arrived within minutes and Volunteer Scheduler Jonel checked the calendar to see which volunteers had entered in early hours. A steady stream of volunteers began arriving as soon as 7:30. Several boats were retrieved and launched near the pup’s resting spot. Boaters were more than cooperative, as volunteers directed incoming boats to the dockside away from the pup and pedestrians around the various trucks, trailers and vessels. The pup was alert to the activity, but managed to get in a number of naps in between.

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All available responders were called away at various times during a very hectic morning. Robin went to Vigor shipyard on Harbor Island to check on last night’s report of a possibly injured or ill seal pup, but the pup was gone early this morning. While David kept an eye on the boat launch, Lynn checked on the very decomposed California sea lion carcass in the cove just north of Seacrest Park. Meanwhile, Buzz dashed off to follow up on a report of a seal on the beach at Jack Block Park, but none was found.

Young Seal Sitters volunteers Cyrilla and Rydian named the boat ramp pup Flame, very appropriate for this season of candles and light. Because of the holidays, some of our volunteers were free to help out and several visitors from out of town were able to see their very first harbor seal.

Flame snoozed off and on all afternoon, despite all the traffic and onlookers just 30 feet away. Volunteers had their own version of a tailgate party as they sipped coffee to stay warm - though the sight of Flame was enough to keep all of us warm and fuzzy, lifting our spirits on an otherwise dreary day.

The pup moved down to the water’s edge around 3:20 and finally swam off into Elliott Bay at 4pm. After waiting to make sure Flame didn’t return, volunteers packed up materials and headed home, satisfied that they had ensured the pup’s safety today.

Volunteers celebrate Solstice on the beach

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Around the globe today, people of differing cultures celebrated Winter Solstice, an astronomical phenomenon creating the least hours of daylight and longest night of the year. Astronomers mark the day as the beginning of the winter season.

Late this morning, Seal Sitters celebrated the arrival of a harbor seal pup who came to rest on a West Seattle beach and enjoy every bit of lingering sunlight. The hotline received a call about a pup close to the sea wall on a public beach, just above the high tide line.


Yellow tape was strung, signs were posted by first responders and volunteers began to arrive. Appropriately enough, the alert pup was nicknamed Solstice.

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The pup settled in for a long snooze as excited passersby asked questions. In the spirit of the holiday season, volunteers donned Santa hats and merrily provided information about seal pups’ critical need for stress-free rest and the work of the Marine Mammal Stranding Network.

Solstice appeared in reasonably good health, but potentially has blindness in one eye. Seals can forage quite successfully, however, with limited vision and even complete blindness. Used to navigating and foraging in dark, murky waters, they use their whiskers (vibrissae), each of which contains up to 1,500 nerves, to locate prey by sensing vibrations up to 600 feet away. Seals have the amazing ability to determine the size (within 1.4 inches) and shape of prey with this technique. Read the German scientific study here.

Seal Sitters volunteers stayed until well after dark in brisk temperatures until Solstice finally flopped across the pebbled beach, back toward the cold waters of Puget Sound. After more than a month-long drought in seal pup responses, volunteers were thrilled to help keep Solstice safe while on shore.

Sunny day proves inviting for a little harbor seal hide and seek

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Following a long stretch of rainy weather - day after day - soggy Seattleites finally caught a much-needed break this afternoon, as the sun broke through the clouds and raised temps to the low 60’s.

Admiring the snow-dusted Olympic Mountains across from Weather Watch Park shortly after noon today, West Seattle resident Zach noticed a small harbor seal crawl out of the water and disappear into the driftwood strewn on the small beach. He immediately dialed Seal Sitters’ hotline (206-905-7325) and First Responder Lynn was on the scene within minutes.

Zach pointed out the logs that the seal pup, hidden from view on the neighborhood beach, had wriggled over and settled in between. Lynn and fellow First Responder Robin stretched tape to close off access so the pup could rest undisturbed. Occasionally, you could see a hint of whiskers or the stretch of a flipper. Periodically, as a noisy bus or motorcycle roared by on Beach Drive, a little white head would peer out to make sure all was safe.

Volunteers Eve, Cathy and John chatted with passersby about the pup, nicknamed Pipsqueak, who emerged from his (or her) hideaway around 2 and rested in full view on the beach before swimming off around 2:50. While not exactly chubby, Pipsqueak was alert and no health issues were noted.

PUPDATE:
On a sad note, seal pup Pepper, rescued on October 17th and taken to PAWS after suffering seizures on the beach near the Fauntleroy ferry dock, did not survive. PAWS staff fought valiantly for a week to save the pup, but the small male had too many issues to overcome. Pepper was markedly thin with very little blubber thickness and was battling a lungworm infestation, a common health danger for seal pups in fall and winter months.
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