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Harbor seal joins protest against Shell and Arctic drilling

Hundreds of activists assembled a flotilla of kayaks, canoes, paddleboards and boats on Seattle’s Elliott Bay yesterday to protest Royal Dutch Shell’s plans to drill in the Arctic Ocean, one of the few remaining pristine habitats for marine life. Many hoisted signs as they gathered in front of an ominous 307 foot tall oil drilling rig, bound for Alaskan waters. The platform arrived amid political controversy at the Port of Seattle’s Terminal 5 on Thursday.

The only levity on this somber occasion was the appearance of a young harbor seal who hauled out to rest on a protester’s kayak (photo courtesy Alex Garland). It is more than appropriate that this tiny seal represented the many marine mammals - polar bears, whales (including endangered fin, humpback and bowhead), walruses, and seals (ribbon, bearded, ringed and spotted) - as well as birds and other sea life that are at risk if the critical habitat of the Chukchi Sea is opened for oil exploration and potential environmental catastrophe. Read NRDC’s take on the Department of the Interior’s admission that there is a 75% chance of a major spill if there is drilling in these remote, challenging waters.

To see more of photojournalist Alex Garland’s images of the day, click here. For more information on the demonstration, read the Seattle PI story.

Thanks to everyone who took a stand yesterday and emphatically voiced their opposition, “Shell No.” The harbor seal is believed to be the same one Seal Sitters has observed in the waters near Jack Block Park recently.

Learn about marine life at Flipper Fest - and win cool prizes!

Pinnipeds, cetaceans and invertebrates - oh, my! Flipper Fest is coming up soon - May 31st, just three weeks away. Make sure to stop by the Alki Bathhouse from 1-5pm and learn from the experts about the marine mammals of Washington - from tiny harbor seal pups (a “pinniped” species) to giant humpback whales (a “cetacean” species).

Did you know that a record number of humpback and gray whales - at least 30 - were entangled in fishing gear last year, mostly crab pots? As of April, at least 25 entanglements had been reported off California alone for 2015, on a tragic record-setting pace. The line securing crab traps to buoys cuts deep into a whale’s flesh, causing serious injury or death.

At Flipper Fest, you’ll learn from Northwest Straits how to secure your crab pot to lessen drifting, derelict pots that endanger whales and often entrap and kill other sea life. It’s just one of the many ways we can keep our waters safer for those who call Puget Sound home. Visit the “Marine Debris and Pollution” exhibits at Flipper Fest to find out how you can help. At the “Cetacean Station” exhibits, you can talk to Cascadia Research about their first-hand, dangerous - and often, lifesaving - whale disentanglements over the past years. Read about a challenging May 2010 disentanglement of a humpback by Cascadia’s team off the Washington coast (photo above). For the story and video of another whale disentanglement off the California coast last year, click here.

Crunch. “Oops!” Find out why you need to be extra careful exploring the beach rocks at low tide. It’s so you don’t destroy habitat for “invertebrates” like sea snails, sea stars and hermit crabs - or scrunch them or their young. Seattle Aquarium Beach Naturalists will be at the event all afternoon to answer your questions about this fascinating miniature world. You’ll leave knowing why it’s never a good idea to pick up or relocate these extraordinary critters.

Local businesses have donated some fantastic raffle prizes - everything from food to kayaking to area attractions. Whale-sized thanks for their generosity! Tickets are $1 and will benefit Seal Sitters’ educational outreach and marine mammal stranding work. Drawings will be held at 2:30, 3:30 and 4:30 (you need not be present to win). There will be a free prize drawing for kids attending Flipper Fest, with a chance to win a “Share the Shore” t-shirt, seal boogie board or ocean backpack.

Alki Kayak and M2S – Sunset Kayak Tour for 2 people
Alki Spud Fish and Chips - $50 gift card
Baked. - $30 certificate for custom cake
Bakery Nouveau – certificate for 8” Triple Layer Chocolate Cake
Barnes & Noble - $25 gift card
Costco - $50 gift card
Cupcake Royale – 12 cupcake certificates
EMP Museum – 4 admission passes (2 winners of 2 passes each)
Joe Gaydos – autographed copy of The Salish Sea book
M2S (Mountain to Sound) – Ski or Snowboard weekend rental
Marination Ma Kai – (four) $10 gift cards
McLendon Hardware - $25 gift card
Northwest Art & Frame - $50 gift card
Pacific Science Center – Family Pass for 4, including IMAX
Pegasus Books - (2) $25 certificates (2 winners of 1 each)
Salty’s on Alki – 2 brunch certificates
Seattle Aquarium – 4 Guest Passes
Seattle Sounders FC – autographed mini soccer ball
Stuffed Cakes - $20 gift certificate
Wild Birds Unlimited in Burien - $25 gift card
Woodland Park Zoo – Family Fun Pack passes

Mark your May calendar for Seal Sitters' Flipper Fest

     flipper fest sm poster
Seal Sitters is excited to announce “Flipper Fest”, a free educational outreach event celebrating the marine life of Puget Sound and the people who do the work to protect it, will be held on Sunday, May 31st, at the Alki Bathhouse. Come learn about the many marine mammals of Puget Sound, large and small!

Representatives from area marine mammal stranding networks, marine biologists, whale researchers and educators will share their knowledge and materials. There will be lots of hands-on exhibits, including skulls and pelts to examine - even an underwater robot used for videos. Environmental groups who focus on marine debris and pollution will show ways you can help save marine life, the easiest of which is by reducing waste and picking up litter!

There will be opportunities for kids to create marine-themed art. Inspired by the large-scale bottle cap works by artist Denise Hughes (visit her website here), Seal Sitters volunteers have been collecting plastic caps which will be used to create interactive artwork at the event.

Included in Flipper Fest activities will be raffle drawings throughout the afternoon with an opportunity to win some pretty awesome prizes. Tickets are $1 and proceeds benefit Seal Sitters’ stranding and educational outreach activities. For a complete list of prizes generously donated by local businesses, click here. There will be a special free drawing for kids (for an opportunity to win a “Share the Shore” t-shirt, seal boogie board or ocean backpack) and a face painter will be on-site.

Weather permitting, a life-size inflatable orca (approximately 20’ long by 12’ high) will provide a great photo op - and impress you with the scale and beauty of our local pods.

MARINE MAMMAL STRANDING NETWORKS respond to all marine mammals, but will have a pinniped (seals, sea lions) focus for this event:
Seal Sitters MMSN
NOAA West Coast MMSN
Sno-King Marine Mammal Response
WA Department of Fish and Wildlife - Marine Mammal Investigations, a leading researcher of emerging diseases in marine mammals who provides necropsy and response for NOAA MMSN.
PAWS Wildlife Center, seal rehabilitation partner of NOAA MMSN.

CETACEANS (whales, dolphins, porpoises):
Cascadia Research Collective performs research to protect marine mammals, with a focus on cetaceans.
American Cetacean Society, Puget Sound Chapter with a special focus on local orcas and environment.
NOAA Protected Resources works to conserve, protect and recover species of marine mammals and sea life.
The Whale Trail inspires stewardship of whales and environment by providing a network of viewing sites.

Puget Soundkeeper Alliance actively patrols and monitors the health of Puget Sound.
NW Straits Foundation/Derelict Fishing Gear Program will demonstrate how to secure crab pots to keep from endangering marine mammals.
NOAA Marine Debris Division provides info on marine debris and its devastating impact on marine life.
Tox-ick is dedicated to preventing stormwater and polluted runoff through stunning video documentation.

Seattle Aquarium Beach Naturalists will help you identify the tiniest of beach critters, so you can enjoy the beach without harming them!

Sunday, May 31st from 1-5pm
Alki Bathhouse, 2701 Alki Ave SW, Seattle (
map it)

Mark your calendars for Flipper Fest and bring your friends!

Happy Mother's Day to all species

Seal Sitters sends out warm flipper hugs to those most special souls - mothers! Happy Mother’s Day to our human moms - thanks for all your nurturing, guidance and support.

This day is a reminder, too, that spring is the time for birthing of many wildlife species. Seals and sea lions are now being born along the Pacific coastline. Share the Shore - stay back and do not disturb! To view a map which show the pupping season timeline in Oregon and Washington, click here.

Harbor seal moms form affectionate bonds with their pups. Immediately after birth (see birth photos here), a mom must memorize the scent and call of her newborn so she can locate the pup if they are separated. Pups weigh between 18-30 lbs when born. Mom will nurse her pup for 4-6 weeks and then the chubby pup is on his own - now gaunt from nourishing her pup, she needs to replenish her own fat stores. During that short time, she must teach her pup all the skills to survive against daunting odds - only 50% of pups survive the first year.

Pups can swim within minutes of birth (hours-old pup shown swimming with mom in photos). A 2-day-old pup can stay underwater for 2 minutes. Like small human children, they will rest on mom’s back when tired and hitch a ride. Most times, the pup accompanies mom on foraging trips to learn how to hunt. He will learn that patience pays off when foraging. SeaDoc Society studied the differing foraging patterns of wild weaned seal pups versus rehabilitated pups who had no mom to teach them life lessons. The scientists found that rehab pups travelled much further in search of food, wasting essential calories.

Sometimes, a mom will leave her pup, who may not be strong enough to forage for hours, alone to rest on shore. She returns later to nourish her hungry pup. Always stay back from a resting pup. Otherwise, the mom may abandon her young due to human interference.

And finally, a “shout-out” to our Seal Sitters volunteers who are moms. These great women teach their children that respect for wildlife and concern for the health of our waterways is an empowering lesson to be learned and shared with others. We cannot thank you enough.

Steller sea lion pup goes back home to the wild

Late Thursday night, two Marine Mammal Stranding Network teams piled into pickups and hit the highway - one in California, headed north and the other in Washington, headed south - with the intent to rendezvous in southern Oregon at 6am Friday morning. Why? To transport and release a rehabilitated Steller sea lion pup, rescued many months before in the Pacific Northwest and rehabbed at The Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito.

Finally, at 2:30 Friday afternoon, the bleary-eyed Washington contingent (consisting of WDFW biologist Dyanna Lambourn, her intern and grad student Erin Dagnese and PAWS Wildlife Center naturalist Jen Mannas) drove onto the sand at a Moclips beach. In a large cage on the back of the truck, the animated pup soaked in the smell and sounds of the Pacific Ocean. Thanks to this tremendous joint effort, he was back home and soon to be free.

Last fall, the 4-month-old male pup stranded on the beach at Ocean Shores. On October 3, 2014, a group of people illegally dragged the helpless, weakened pup a long distance back to the water.

When Ocean Shores Police Department Officer Henderson arrived on the scene, he found the unresponsive pup rolling in the surf. Quickly, he rescued the pup from the waves so he wouldn’t drown. WDFW Marine Mammal Investigations responded and the animal was taken to WDFW’s facility where he was hydrated, stabilized and observed overnight. Weighing only 31kg (about 68 lbs), he was terribly emaciated for his age.

The following morning, the pup (nicknamed Henderson) was transported to PAWS Wildlife Center in Lynnwood for short-term rehabilitation. In mid-November, he was flown courtesy of the Coast Guard to The Marine Mammal Center (where he was nicknamed Leo because of a name conflict) to complete his lengthy rehab and recovery and enable critical socialization with other animals. It’s not uncommon for a Steller sea lion pup to nurse on mom’s milk for one - three years. Separated from his mom for unknown reasons, Leo Henderson needed to pack on weight and learn to survive on his own.

At last, the day of his release had arrived. Leo Henderson tipped the scales at a chunky 125 kg (over 275 lbs) and was now 10 months old. Key rehab staff from PAWS made the long drive out from Puget Sound to assist and savor this moment.

As everyone manned their positions, the cage gate was lifted open and the stout, golden pup emerged, sporting a satellite tag to track his travels and identification numbers “35” dyed onto his side. After surveying the situation, he leapt from the ramp. A couple of u-turns later, he eventually lumbered across the wide expanse of beach toward the ocean.

Resting briefly at the water’s edge, he turned to look back at those who had given him a second chance at life. Leo Henderson then bounded into the surf. His head popped up periodically as he navigated a series of crashing waves - and then he was gone. The dedicated team stared out into the vast Pacific. It had truly been a long road for Leo Henderson.

Because of the satellite tag temporarily glued to his fur (it will be shed along with the dyed id numbers during the molt of his coat), you can follow his movements along the Pacific Coast here. The data will help researchers learn more about Steller sea lions. The pup is a member of the Eastern stock of Steller sea lions which were recently delisted as threatened from the Endangered Species Act. The population is rebounding, but still recovering. Check back for updates on his travels.

Thanks to everyone involved - NOAA (special kudos to Kristin Wilkinson), WDFW, United States Coast Guard, PAWS Wildlife Center and The Marine Mammal Center - for your extraordinary efforts to save this special pup.

Leo "Buzz" Shaw otter talk on Thursday, April 30th

The Whale Trail presents:
“A Tale of Two Otters: Natural History of River Otters and Sea Otters”

Presentation by Leo Shaw
When: Thursday, April 30th, 7PM (doors open 6:15)
Where: C&P Coffee Company, 5612 California Ave SW

Cost: $5 suggested donation. (Kids get in free!)
Advance tickets: brown paper tickets here

What is the difference between a sea otter and a river otter (photo right)? Where do they live, what do they eat, and what role do humans play in their environment? Join us to learn about these fascinating and playful creatures who share our shores.

Leo Shaw will discuss the natural history of river and sea otters in North America, with a special focus on the river otters of West Seattle! His talk will cover human interactions, population swings, social structure, anatomy and physiology food preferences, legal status, and current threats.

Buy tickets early to reserve your seat. And hurry! This will sell out.

This is the next in a series Orca Talks hosted by The Whale Trail in West Seattle. The event also features updates from Seal Sitters, and Diver Laura James (tox-ick.org). You otter be there!

About the Speaker
Leo “Buzz” Shaw is a zoologist who served as a Marine Education Specialist with the Seattle Aquarium from 1977 to 2005. Now retired, he continues to work part-time on Beach Naturalist and Citizen Science programs for the Aquarium.

Leo was a board member of the American Cetacean Society Seattle Chapter in the 1980s. He currently volunteers as Science and Education Advisor for Seal Sitters and as a marine-mammal expert for The Whale Trail.

Leopard & Silkie up for Beverly Cleary Award - please vote, kids!

     book cover
Leopard & Silkie: One Boy’s Quest to Save the Seal Pups has been nominated for the prestigious Beverly Cleary Children’s Choice Award. The book features text by Brenda Peterson and photographs by Robin Lindsey, co-founders of Seal Sitters MMSN. The award is named in honor of Oregon-born children’s book author, Beverly Cleary and is sponsored by the Oregon Association of School Libraries.

Children of all ages may vote online for their favorite of the five nominated books from March 15 - April 10, 2015. Nominated books are targeted to the reading ability of 2nd and 3rd graders or transitional readers. All elementary school age students are eligible to vote in this contest. To be eligible to vote for their favorite book, students must have read (or listened to) at least two of the nominated books. Learn more here about the nominees and how to vote.

Leopard & Silkie was named a 2013 Outstanding Science Trade Books K-12 by the National Science Teachers Association.


Leopard & Silkie
is based on the true story of two West Seattle harbor seal pups in 2007. That late summer and fall, the volunteers who came to be known as Seal Sitters looked after many vulnerable little seal pups. This book tells the tale of pups Leopard, with his golden coat and black spots, and snow-white Silkie who became fast friends and the young volunteers who helped protect them.

“Young animal lovers will return again and agin to this picture book...[a] compassionate story. Young readers will find plenty to pore over in Robin Lindsey’s close-up photographs of the shore life and plenty to think about how they could make a difference as a volunteer.” ~ Sacramento Bee

Learn more about the book, Seal Sitters kid volunteers, ways you can help wildlife and become an environmental steward on the Leopard & Silkie book website here.

Kids, your vote for Leopard & Silkie between March 15th and April 10th will help spread the word to protect harbor seal pups! You and your friends can help bring Seal Sitters and seal pups into the national spotlight and save pups across the country.

Volunteer training session and beach cleanup scheduled for June

Saturday, June 13th will be a busy day for Seal Sitters volunteers. At 9 am that morning, Seal Sitters will sponsor a beach cleanup until noon in honor of seal pup Sandy and the Arroyos gray whale.

A new volunteer training session will be held from 1-3:30pm.

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. 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!

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 short time frame, supplementary sessions may be held to include more marine mammals of Puget Sound).

1:00 - 3:30pm (doors open at 12:30pm)
*please arrive early to receive paperwork

ALKI UCC (*there is no church affiliation with Seal Sitters MMSN)
front meeting room
6115 SW Hinds St
Seattle, WA 98116 (
map it here)

RSVP required to attend. (*please include full name and name/ages of children)

*PARENTS PLEASE NOTE: all children in attendance must be able to sit quietly through an approximate 2 hour training session with a short break.

For additional questions and info or to be placed on a contact list for future training opportunities, please email us. Seal Sitters MMSN does not usually hold trainings during the height of our pupping season August - October due to time constraints on volunteers responding to marine mammals.

The public can attend one or both events, but RSVP is required. Please visit our website here for more details on the beach cleanup.

Rain and wind can't deter seal pup and volunteers from shore

Despite severe winds and at times pelting rain, Seal Sitters volunteers put in long hours protecting a harbor seal pup that rested at Constellation Park today. Our first responder arrived on the scene just minutes after a report was phoned into Seal Sitters’ dedicated hotline (206-905-SEAL) about 8:30 this morning.

Reporting party Grace, who had been walking along a turbulent Puget Sound, pointed out the alert pup halfway up the cement ramp that leads down to the popular beach. The pup had come up at a very high tide. With no exposed beach to rest upon, he (or she) decided the cement ramp would do just fine for an extended snooze.

And snooze the pup did throughout the day despite tremendous wind gusts that blew over signs and the yellow “Share the Shore - Protected Marine Mammal” tape stretched along the sidewalk above him.

Volunteers talked to a surprising number of folks, out braving the elements and thrilled to be able to view a pup so close up to the sea wall. As the afternoon wore on and after enduring a torrential downpour, volunteers wondered if the pup, nicknamed Sena by 8-year old Sadie on her first day as a Seal Sitter, was going to return to the Sound before dark.

Shortly after 5 pm, Sena, estimated to be between 6-8 months old, began stirring and made a move back to the water and swam off in search of dinner.

Volunteers, though chilled to the bone, were grateful to have been able to protect a seemingly healthy weaned seal pup. Sena appears to have a small cut on the left side of the mouth that is swollen and perhaps a bit of respiratory issues, but nothing of great concern that we observed. Thanks to our dedicated Seal Sitters souls who helped out today - and to the many passersby who were so kind and appreciative of our work.

On Thursday, a seal pup nicknamed Barnacle visited Don Armeni boat ramp on another damp day. The pup had an abscess on his head that was visibly draining. Before we were able to treat the wound, Barnacle moved close to the water’s edge and it was determined that the stress of capture and topical treatment outweighed the benefit to the pup. He returned to Elliott Bay around 1:30 in the afternoon.

Vulnerable seal pup is regular visitor to Lincoln Park

Seal pup Colman hauled out once again early yesterday morning at Lincoln Park. Thanks to Stephanie who phoned in the report of the pup sleeping just a foot or so from the main walkway. Seal Sitters’ first responder immediately closed off the small area to public access and people were asked to make a short detour around the back of the pool in the very popular wooded park.

Before support volunteers were able to arrive to help monitor the perimeter, there were 5 overt breaches - walkers with dogs and runners cut through the well-marked tape barrier with “Do Not Enter” and “Resting Seal Pup” signs. Each was insistent that they had not disturbed the seal. Another man was emphatic that he wanted to go in and stand close to the seal again, as he had done before Seal Sitters MMSN arrived.

NOAA recommends a distance of 100 yards from marine mammals and they are protected from harassment by Federal and WA State law. Undisrupted, stress-free rest is crucial to the survival of seal pups who have a 50% mortality rate their first year. Colman is terribly unresponsive to people standing within feet of him - and that is of great concern and may well indicate underlying health issues. Just because Colman does not react, does not mean he isn’t stressed at such close activity. Seal Sitters MMSN is closely monitoring his health and behavior.

Of grave concern is the fact that Colman is extremely vulnerable to injury from the many illegally off-leash dogs that are at Lincoln Park and on the beaches each and every day. There is no way Colman could escape. Dog behavior cannot be predicted and each, regardless of breed, should be considered a danger to a struggling seal pup.

Seal Sitters volunteers like Laura and daughter Cyrilla (photo) helped keep the pup safe until he (or she) returned to the Sound around 2pm. Thanks to the many volunteers who educated hundreds of people and protected Colman on a gorgeous and busy day at the beach.

At 5pm, Seal Sitters’ first responder investigated a report of a pup at the north end of the park. Due to darkness, she was unable to confirm if the pup was Colman. The pup returned to the water at 5:40.

Please, if you see Colman or another seal pup at Lincoln Park, keep people and dogs well away and call our dedicated hotline at 206-905-SEAL (7235).

Healthy gray whale killed by ship propeller

The dead gray whale discovered Wednesday night, wedged between pilings underneath Seattle’s WA State Ferries dock, was killed by a large ship propeller.

Yesterday, a necropsy exam was performed by biologists from NOAA’s marine mammal stranding network, led by Cascadia Research and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife with support from interns, marine mammal vets and volunteers from Sno-King MMSN and Seal Sitters MMSN.

The 6 deep gashes (photo above) along the right side of the female whale caused extensive damage while the animal was alive in Puget Sound. At least one rib was sheared off. It is estimated the 30’5” juvenile died quickly and less than 36 hours prior to her discovery.

A thick, oily layer of blubber (right) and food in the intestines indicated the two - three year old whale was in excellent health. It is a bit unusual for a gray whale to be inside Puget Sound in January. The gray was assumed headed south to Baja California’s warm winter breeding grounds after a successful season feeding in the rich waters of Alaska’s Bering and Russia’s southern Chukchi seas. Watch a video here that shows typical feeding behavior of a gray whale, scooping up large mouthfuls of ocean sediment and straining invertebrates through a comb-like filter of baleen. In the spring, on their 10,000 mile roundtrip migration back north, it is common for gray whales to venture into inland waters to feast on ghost shrimp around Whidbey Island.

Washington State averages about a half-dozen gray whale strandings each year. Thanks to the Port of Seattle for providing a secure location to perform the examination. The whale will be sunk to decompose and nourish the marine ecosystem.

Read Seal Sitters “Gray Whale Facts” here.
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