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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.

Quiet off season finally starts to heat up with Spring

This has by far been the quietest off-season for Seal Sitters since the group formed over 7 years ago. Last winter and early Spring, we had lots of seal pup activity. Jack Block Park was a hotbed for harbor seals and the inaccessible abandoned dock there was loaded with up to 13 seals of all ages each day for months. The public access pier itself often had seal pups resting on the timbers accessed at high tide. Rehab Ruby and her pal Buddy fascinated onlookers with their friendship on a protected beach there. This year, however, there has only been occasional sightings of pups within the confines of the Park, swimming and foraging offshore.

Last Sunday the 16th, however, a weaned harbor seal pup was discovered sleeping in the rain on a small beach below the sidewalk leading to Jack Block’s public beach. First responder for the day Dana stretched yellow tape and strategically placed cones and signs to add a small buffer zone above the pup. She observed the often-alert pup, nicknamed Neha (Hindu name for love, rain), over the next few hours. Due to inclement weather, there was little pedestrian traffic and the pup (shown at left) finally returned to Elliott Bay, but was later spotted stretching and yawning on the nearby, inaccessible dock.

On the morning of March 12th, Seal Sitters’ dedicated hotline (206-905-7325) received a call of a pup on a private beach near the Harbor West Condos. First responder Lynn was on the scene within minutes and observed a reasonably robust pup (by wild-weaned standards) who exhibited a short coughing spell, not uncommon for weaned pups. Special thanks to homeowners Michelle and Renee for allowing volunteer access for health assessment and to close off one end of the beach at lower tide. Seal pups struggle through the long winter months and we appreciate all homeowners notifying us when a pup is on their beach. Nicknamed Samoa, the pup returned to the water overnight at high tide, but was sighted again on the afternoon of the 17th on the rocky beach at Constellation Park. Seal Sitters’ volunteers distributed small informational brochures and talked to a number of people out enjoying a pleasant afternoon strolling along Beach Drive’s waterfront. Samoa returned to Puget Sound around 5pm.

Early morning of Sunday the 9th, a seal pup was noticed snoozing at the end of one of the docks at Don Armeni Boat Ramp. Access to the dock was blocked off with a barricade and volunteers spent a long day talking to the public about seal pups’ need to rest and warm up. The pup left the dock briefly when the launch of a sailboat created a disturbance. Minutes later, he hauled out to the same spot, settling back in for a rest. The pup was still there late at night, as volunteers did ‘round-the-clock checks on him. Early the next morning, first responders found “Clock” close to the same spot on the wooden ramp as the night before. Responders discussed the option of capture and transport to rehab, but his position just feet from the water posed a doubtful chance for a rescue; the pup was alert enough to be aware of events around him and anyone approaching down the long, narrow dock with a net. A decision was made to let the pup continue to rest rather than risk scaring him away from this safe haven.

However, the pup spent a second, very cold night on the dock. At 6am, first responders gathered in the darkness at Don Armeni to attempt a very challenging rescue. Upon approach, however, the awakening pup slid off his perch and disappeared into the black waters of Elliott Bay - our first unsuccessful rescue in 7 years. Volunteers kept an eye out for Clock throughout the day and evening, but he was not sighted again. We hope his refuge on shore allowed him the strength to forage and pack on some blubber.

Heartfelt thanks to the first responders and volunteers who protected these pups!

Coming up: whale talk and beach cleanup

Two great events are coming up this week, so make sure to get them on your calendar.

On Thursday evening, the 27th, The Whale Trail is hosting a talk entitled “Biology and Evolution of Whales: The Historic Return of Mammals to the Sea”. Why do whales and dolphins have finger bones in their flippers? Did you know that today’s cetacean’s are descended from ancestors who once lived on shore and then returned to the sea? Jim Kenagy, the Burke Museum’s curator of mammals and professor emeritus of biology at University of Washington, will enlighten us all on this fascinating subject.

Thursday, March 27, 7 - 9pm
C&P Coffee Company, 5612 California Ave SW, Seattle (
map it)
$5 (kids for free)
Advance tickets:

The Whale Trail is also sponsoring a beach cleanup on Saturday, March 29, 10:30am - 2:30pm. You can sign up now at info@thewhaletrail.org or contact coordinator Judy Lane here. Volunteers will meet at the picnic table between Shelter 3 and 4 at Lincoln Park (map it).

Each year hundreds of thousands of seabirds, marine mammals and sea turtles are injured or killed by marine debris and pollution. Fishing line, plastic bands and bags and other debris strangle, suffocate and mutilate marine life. Too many a one-legged seagull is seen along West Seattle’s shoreline - a victim of amputation by derelict fishing line. Plastics, such as the cup shown here at Lincoln Park (image by Judy Lane), wind up in our waters and photo-degrade into minute particles, attracting pollutants such as PCB’s and flame retardants and enter into the food chain. Consumed by marine life, these pollutants cause deformation and immune disorders. Read more on about marine debris and pollution on Seal Sitters’ website.

Please volunteer some time on Saturday and help protect our marine mammals by removing dangerous trash from the beach!

Seal Sitters new volunteer training scheduled

On Saturday morning, April 26th, Seal Sitters will be holding a special training for those wanting to protect marine mammals along the shoreline of West Seattle and the Duwamish River. 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 (like Elizabeth and Betsy shown here at Lincoln Park) - we hope you will join us!

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 Western Marine Mammal Stranding Network and biology and behavior of seals and other pinnipeds (due to time frame, supplementary sessions will include more marine mammals of Puget Sound).

When: Saturday, April 26, 2014
Time: 10am - 12pm Training starts promptly at 10.
(weather permitting, a brief on-the beach short session will follow)
Where: Alki Bathhouse 2701 Alki Ave SW (map it)
RSVP required to assure seating.

If you are unable to make this training and would like to be placed on a contact list for future trainings or if you have any questions, please email us.

It takes a village to protect urban seal pups

(see update end of story)
Early Saturday morning, Seal Sitters MMSN volunteers David and Eilene drove through the Don Armeni public boat launch on their way home from downtown Seattle. First responders, on and off duty, routinely look for pups in dangerous locations, such as the ramp, where pups often come ashore to rest. Sure enough, a pup was sleeping on the sand-covered cement, vulnerable not only to curious people, but much more worrisome, offleash dogs and boat traffic.

David quickly grabbed barricades and tape stashed at the location and established a perimeter to protect the pup in one of three lanes available for vessel launch and retrieval. Thankfully, in this boating off-season and cold rain, no boats were present.

Other first responders were on the scene in minutes to lend a hand. Scheduler for the day, Lynn J, was notified and she quickly referred to our online calendar and began calling volunteers. An iPhone was used to send out an APB “seal on the beach now” to all volunteers.

In 2-hour shifts, volunteers watched over the pup throughout the day in a cold, often drenching, rain. Nicknamed Penny (shown here moving closer to the sea wall, away from breaking waves), the thin pup showed no overt signs of illness, but lack of interest in people and nearby barking dogs was definitely a concern. A pup estimated to be anywhere from 6-8 months old should be much more wary of disturbance. However, there were no coughing spells or discharge from the nose or mouth - signs of parasite and viral load. Due to the physical constraints of the location with a parking lot and need to keep boat access open on the remaining ramps, the public was allowed closer than the ideal. The few boat owners that launched during the day were extremely cooperative and happy to give a resting pup some space.

Volunteers spoke with passersby who struggled to discern the shape of the pup on land even though they were just yards away. From the back, Penny looked like a dark rock. From the front, covered in sand and crushed shells, she blended into the shore. The spotted coat provides seals excellent camouflage from predators - or an inquisitive public. Dogs, however, with their keen sense of smell are easily able to seek out a pup - all the more reason to keep dogs leashed near beaches and well away from vulnerable young seals.

After dark, in the bitter cold 37 degree weather, volunteers continued to check on the pup during the night. Plans were put into place to capture the pup in the early morning hours for transport to rehab if the pup was still on shore. It is not unusual for a pup to spend well over 12 hours on shore, but something definitely seemed amiss for this increasingly listless pup. NOAA requests that no intervention occur until a pup has been onshore a minimum of 24 hours unless circumstances are unique - such as human interference - since there is a 50% mortality in the wild and there are extremely limited resources for rehabilitation in the Puget Sound region.

At high tide, around 1:30 am, Penny was no longer at the ramp. Volunteer Buzz located the pup at 2am, sleeping on the sand at nearby Duwamish Head, and put up a tape perimeter to prevent people from walking down the stairs to the beach. At 5:30 am, it was clear the pup was in distress and a first responder team assembled at 7am’s first light to capture the pup only a few feet from the approaching tide. The largely unresponsive pup was taken to PAWS Wildlife Center for stabilization and treatment, but died upon arrival.

If a necropsy is performed, we will share the results. Thanks to our many amazing volunteers who helped give Penny some peace on the beach. And thanks as always to PAWS’ caring staff. This is a very sad day for all of us.

PAWS Wildlife Center’s veterinarian performed a necropsy on Penny yesterday. The exam showed that the pup had pneumonia related to lungworm with what appears to be a sudden onset. The lack of obvious symptoms is somewhat baffling. The male pup weighed 14.7 kg. We are extremely grateful to PAWS.

Salmon recovery featured in Orca Talks series

Salmon are the key to the recovery of the endangered southern resident orcas. How are the salmon populations of Puget Sound doing, and what can we do to help?

Jeanette Dorner of Puget Sound Partnership will discuss the current health of salmon populations in Puget Sound, what kinds of challenges salmon face, and what people are dong to help salmon recover in our waters.

One of a series of Orca Talks sponsored by The Whale Trail, the event features updates from Seal Sitters, Laura James of Tox-ick, and photography by Judy Lane. Please make sure to attend this fascinating evening.

Thursday, February 27, 2014
C&P Coffee Company, 5612 California Avenue SW

$5 suggested donation, kids free.
Tickets available brownpapertickets.com

Marine mammals great and small in our area waters

A report of a humpback whale off Lowman Beach was fielded by Seal Sitters’ hotline yesterday afternoon. West Seattle photographer and writer Judy Lane was out observing eagles when she noticed a humpback whale off shore, slapping the surface of the water with his or her massive tail (behavior known as a tail lob). Worried that the whale might be entangled near a buoy, Judy notified Donna Sandstrom of The Whale Trail (see Judy’s photos on their Facebook page) who quickly gave our stranding network a heads up that we had a whale in the area. The whale was last sighted around 2pm swimming freely and headed south near Lincoln Parks’ Pt. Williams. With high winds and choppy seas, a whale at a distance can be quite difficult to see without the telltale blow.

Humpbacks are currently on the ESA endangered species list. Reaching lengths of up to 60 feet, females are larger than males. Through their baleen, they filter krill, plankton and other small crustaceans - up to 3,000 lbs a day. Newborn calves are about 15 feet in length, weighing around 1 ton and spend up to 10 months with mom.

Cascadia Research, based in Olympia, estimates that approximately 1,600 humpbacks feed off the Pacific Coast of North America, with 500 along the waters of Washington and British Columbia. An increasing number of mothers with calves have been sighted in Puget Sound and straits of the Pacific Northwest. A January sighting of a humpback in Puget Sound is unusual and could be of concern since most of the whales should be in Hawaii or Mexico this time of year. A humpback was also reported in Hood Canal last year in late January.

The annual migration of the humpback whale is the longest of any mammal on earth. Found in oceans all over the world, one typical migration from Alaska to Hawaii is over 3,000 miles, often completed in a little over a month. Swimming at the surface along the way, whales face grave dangers from marine debris, such as nets and crab pots. Watch a NOAA video here showing a whale disentanglement team freeing an entangled humpback - and learn how your vigilance and detailed reporting can help save whales from injury and death.

If you see a whale in Seattle’s Elliott Bay or the waters of Puget Sound near West Seattle, please report the sighting to Seal Sitters MMSN hotline @ 206-905-7325 (SEAL). As the marine mammal stranding network for this area, we like to be aware of any whales close to our shores. Photos of flukes and dorsal fins or dorsal bumps (gray whales) are extremely helpful not only for species identification, but also to identify individuals in the cetacean database kept by local researchers at Cascadia (1-800-747-7329) and Orca Network. If you are in a boat, please remember that whales are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act and stay back.

On Saturday, in a downpour, Seal Sitters volunteers watched over a much smaller visitor - a seemingly healthy seal yearling (born during last year’s pupping season) - resting and draped over the edge of an Elliott Bay rock. As the tide crept in and washed over his dangling rear flippers, he slipped off his perch into the gray, rain-splattered waters. Drenched first responders returned home to dry out.

Over the past few weeks, seal pups have made brief appearances on shore. Weaned and wiser at 5-8 months old, they are much more wary of people and dogs. The offshore rafts along Alki and Beach Drive have seen a fair amount of activity with resting pups.

Volunteers help tiny seal pup get rest

Yesterday morning, Seal Sitters’ hotline operator Dave fielded a call about a seal pup onshore at Lowman Beach. First responder Lynn was on the scene within 10 minutes and, with the help of a very kind woman named Melinda, established a large yellow tape perimeter utilizing stakes, driftwood, trees and signposts - pretty much anything she could wrap tape around!

Volunteer coordinator Karin began calling volunteers who had entered time on our online calendar. An “APB” was sent out to all others via iPhone with the message that there was a seal on the beach. Throughout the cold day with a steady northwest wind, volunteers watched in shifts over the very thin, tiny pup nicknamed PeeWee. An off-leash, unattended dog ran across the beach with no owner in sight, but thankfully didn’t notice the sleeping pup - potentially, a very dangerous situation for the weak and vulnerable PeeWee.

Mid-afternoon, PeeWee began a laborious crawl back to Puget Sound - stopping to snooze awhile at the water’s edge and finally swimming off into the dark gray waters after 4pm. Chilled volunteers gathered up stranding materials and returned home to warm up. Many thanks to all the dedicated volunteers who gave this sweet pup some quiet time on the beach, gaining the strength necessary to forage and, hopefully, pack on some much-needed blubber.

Seal Sitters receives rave and pup makes a cameo appearance

Recently, it was brought to our attention that someone from the public submitted a very kind comment about Seal Sitters to the Seattle Times. The compliment ran in the December 29th “Rant and Rave” column.

A thoughtful kudo goes a long way to warm up a volunteer who has braved the elements to protect a pup on the beach and educate passersby. We so appreciate the support of the public. We live in such a special and unique place filled with so many species of shore birds and marine mammals - all of whom deserve the space to rest and forage undisturbed in our Puget Sound waters.

There has been a lull of late in seal pup activity, though pups have been sighted on offshore platforms and resting in protected areas of Jack Block Park. This morning, however, Seal Sitters’ hotline received a report from a ferry worker of a pup on the beach just south of the dock. Our responder arrived promptly, but the pup had returned to the Sound.

Late in the afternoon, the hotline rang again - this time about a pup near Colman Pool. Thanks to the West Seattle Blog’s own Tracy Record for calling us and protecting the pup until our first responder arrived. The pup, possibly the same one from earlier in the day at the nearby Fauntleroy ferry dock, returned to the water shortly thereafter. Tracy nicknamed the pup, appropriately enough, Cameo, for his brief appearance. Perhaps Cameo will be back tomorrow.

Seal Sitters reflects on another record-breaking year

2013 was a roller coaster year for Seal Sitters’ volunteers. Early in the year, we received a grant for an educational outreach project, Year of the Seal, which culminated with the installation of a bronze sculpture at Alki Beach in September. Additionally, it proved to be another record-breaking season for responses to marine mammals on the beaches of West Seattle. Volunteers donated thousands of hours to the very time-intensive endeavor of protecting seal pups on urban beaches while also navigating the sometimes murky waters of a public art project.

2013 was a record breaking season for seal pups on shore in West Seattle. Seal Sitters’ hotline operators fielded many hundreds of calls from all over the Puget Sound region (check back for updated stats on hotline calls). Harbor seal pupping season in South Puget Sound is late June - September, but our busiest months are September and October as pups leave the relative safety of rookeries and strike out on their own.

On July 19th we responded to a report of our first newborn pup of the season, a stillbirth on Harbor Island. Since late July to date in West Seattle, volunteers have logged over 163 responses to marine mammals on the beach, the large majority of which were seal pups, but a few also to harbor porpoise and sea lions. In the past 6 months, we have protected 66 positively identified pups ranging in age from a few days to a few months old (an increase from 51 ID’d pups in 2011’s record year) - a number of these pups hauled out repeatedly for days in a row. With a higher number of seal pups, we also responded to more dead pups, 24 (10 of whom were pups we had protected). Most disturbing was the disproportionate number of emaciated pups for the second year in a row.

A highlight of pupping season was the story of Ruby, a newborn seal pup who had been harassed by people and dogs on a Steilacoom beach and subsequently abandoned by her mom. Only a week or so old, the pup was transported to PAWS in Lynnwood for rehabilitation. Following a successful and lengthy rehab, she was released back to the wild at a harbor seal haul-out near Everett. Ruby appeared one day on shore in West Seattle with her distinctive red rehab tag attached to her flipper (photo right). Over the course of several months, volunteers monitored Ruby’s health as she foraged and rested at Jack Block Park, where she found a true friend in seal pup Buddy. Their friendship was heartwarming and thrilling for both volunteers and the public who observed them daily. Read about Ruby and Buddy here.

Why are there so many seal pups in West Seattle? That is, of course, difficult to answer. Perhaps our proximity to both Puget Sound and Elliott Bay waters with a varied food source. Certainly, it could it be, too, that we have made a refuge on shore for struggling pups so that they can get the rest they need. Our community has rallied around the protection of these small and vulnerable marine mammals. If a seal pup can feel safe on the beach and there is a food source nearby, that pup will continue to forage and return to the beach, gaining the strength necessary to survive that critical first year.

Seal Sitters received a third City of Seattle Department of Neighborhoods in-kind grant award this year. As a result, a high-visibility educational project was completed:

Year of the Seal. This educational outreach project’s goal was to educate the public about the dangers of marine pollution and its devastating impact on marine life.

• Sentinels of the Sound. A bronze sculpture by acclaimed Northwest artist Georgia Gerber was installed at Alki Beach, along with an informational plaque. View videos here.

• Harbor Seal Day. Over 300 people attended a sculpture dedication ceremony and educational outreach event held at the Alki Bathhouse on September 8th. Proclaimed Harbor Seal Day by Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn and Washington Governor Jay Inslee, nine environmental groups had booths and educated the public about marine mammals, marine debris and pollution.

Passionate volunteers like Christine, Nina and Connie donated thousands of hours of educational outreach on the beaches and at events, working the hotline and scheduling volunteers. Thousands of Share the Shore pocket brochures were distributed.
• We participated in a number of street fairs and events, educating many hundreds of people about marine mammals, marine pollution and NOAA’s NW stranding network.
• Seal Sitters co-sponsored a beach cleanup with the Alki Community Council and Seattle Parks and Recreation, receiving media coverage and raising awareness about marine debris.
• Volunteers made presentations at schools; area children took the pledge to protect the marine environment and received Seal Ambassador certificates. If you know a child who would like to become an ambassador, contact us.
• 129 new volunteers were trained in 2013.

• KCTS-9 documentary filmmaker Katie Campbell did a feature segment on Seal Sitters which continues to air regularly on the PBS station. The segment centered on last year’s survival struggles of seal pups on our West Seattle shores, the impact of toxins on marine mammals and funding cuts for research.
• Print, tv and internet media kept Seal Sitters’ work in the news.
• Seal Sitters young volunteers were featured in a Scholastic Magazine cover story. Our kids rock!

Thanks to all our amazing volunteers and to the community for making this such a successful year. If you’d like to help support Seal Sitters’ work with a donation, please click here. We receive no funding for our on-going expenses and even the smallest amount helps defray the cost of our dedicated hotline, websites, gas and stranding and educational supplies. We wish everyone a peaceful and happy new year!

Active pup keeps Seal Sitters on alert

(see update end of story)
Seal Sitters’ hotline operator fielded a call yesterday morning of a seal pup resting on a tiny sliver of beach at Duwamish Head. Two first responders were on the scene within minutes, restricting access to the steps that led to down the sleeping pup. Shortly after getting a buffer zone established on the sea wall above, the incoming tide swept over the weaner and we thought he might return to the Sound. Instead, the pup flop-hopped across the sand to the base of the stairs.

Under the watchful eye of volunteers, the pup dubbed Lulu rested until noon, leaving the beach briefly and wriggling back ashore about 30 minutes later. The active pup did two more return trips to the water, but finally settled back in for a sleep from 3:30 until 5pm. Lulu swam off in search of dinner. Since there was no sign of the pup after dark, volunteers cold from the brisk winds went home to warm up after long hours on duty. The perimeter was left intact in anticipation that she might return during the night or early morning. Since this small beach is frequented by people who let their dogs illegally on the beach, it was imperative that the perimeter stay up overnight to protect the pup in the absence of volunteers.

Lulu was reasonably plump and had no obvious health issues during our observation yesterday.

Very early this morning, Lulu was found snoozing once again on the beach. Based on her tracks in the sand, it appears as if she hauled out around 2 am’s high tide. Volunteers looked after sweet Lulu throughout the day and the pup finally returned to the Sound about 3:30 pm. The pup was exhibiting some signs of potential lung and congestive issues as she moved slowly down to the tideline.

PUPDATE 12/29/13
Lulu was found having seizures at the north end of Alki Beach last evening. Despite the fact that there was no rehab facility open until early morning, the pup had to be taken from this section of beach, notorious for illegally off leash dogs. It was too unsafe for the helpless pup to remain on the beach until morning. Sadly, Lulu died overnight, but the body was taken to PAWS this morning for necropsy. We will update with details of cause of death when we receive the information.
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