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Every day is Earth Day - beach cleanup a success

On this stunningly beautiful morning, the wildlife of Puget Sound got a helping hand, as caring people from around the region removed dangerous trash from Alki Beach, surrounding sidewalks and streets.

Before volunteers dispersed for “Sentinels of the Sound” trash duty, Seal Sitters’ Robin Lindsey spoke briefly about the devastating effects debris and plastic pollution have on marine life. The crowd was then treated to some rules of beach etiquette and info about invertebrates from Seattle Aquarium Beach Naturalist Janice Mathisen (on the right with colleague Zoey Black).

Enthusiastically grabbing buckets, bags and “pluckers”, volunteers set out on their mission to pick up toxic trash. Kids and adults could be seen scouring the area over the next two hours, returning with piles of glass and plastic bottles, cans, clothing and plastic caps. A recent study showed that a shocking 90% of all birds have plastic in their stomachs. Volunteers also brought back bags loaded with deadly cigarette butts. Cigarette filters take 5 years to biodegrade; within an hour of coming into contact with water, they begin leaching toxins into soil and waterways, poisoning the food chain.

Thanks to the many people who took time out of their weekend to make a difference for wildlife! The fabulous Baker family drove all the way from Puyallup this morning to help keep marine life safe. Flipper hugs to the cool kids from West Seattle’s Pathfinder School who, after studying about plastics pollution this year, determinedly donned rubber gloves, too.

Along with the more obvious litter, brand new Seal Sitters volunteers Derek and daughters Laura and June (photo left) picked up minute pieces of plastic that animals mistake for food.

When you visit the beach, remember to stash some gloves and a garbage bag in your backpack. Every single piece of trash removed from our environment can truly have a positive impact and save wildlife from poisoning, injury and death. Every day is Earth Day.

Newborn seals and holiday beaches are a dangerous mix

Harbor seal pupping season is in full swing along the Oregon and Washington coastline. Seal pups are now being born - and may be found alone - on outer coast beaches. All pups this time of year in Washington are nursing and are dependent on their moms for survival.

This Memorial Day weekend as you head for the beach, know that holidays are definitely no party for wildlife, especially newborn seal pups. Humans and dogs cause pups to be abandoned every year. Harbor seal moms are very shy and often will not return for her nursing pup if there is a disturbance or perceived threat. This is a reminder that when you venture out to the beach, whether by trail or boat, please respect animals’ space and need for quiet. Stay back!

Please stay a minimum of 100 yards away from resting seals. Like all marine mammals, they are protected from harassment by the Marine Mammal Protection Act and Washington State law RCW 77.15.130 (a criminal misdemeanor, mandatory court appearance, punishable with up to 90 days in jail and up to $1000 fine).

Pups pay a terrible price for human disturbance. The seal pup shown above was found in 2012, starving on Cutts Island, along with two other emaciated pups and several dead ones. All had been abandoned by their mothers because boaters disrupted the seal colony on this small South Puget Sound island near Gig Harbor. A day of boating fun for people can be a death sentence for seal pups. During boating season, thousands of boats can be moored offshore at Cutts disrupting this historic harbor seal haul-out (called a rookery during pupping season). When you are boating or kayaking, please stay far away from resting harbor seals.

If you find a spot for your picnic on a beach near a harbor seal, please move your picnic to another beach. There are reports of people with blankets and coolers surrounding a lone seal pup - finally calling the stranding network wondering why the mother did not return.

In the inland waters of San Juan de Fuca and Puget Sound, premature or lanugo pups are beginning to show up on shore. Lanugos, like seal pup “Luigi” at Alki Beach (photo left), are identified by their long, wavy white fur which is typically shed in the womb.

A harbor seal mom, shy and wary of humans, will abandon her pup if people and dogs are around! Use common sense and help protect wildlife from harassment and abandonment.

Please respect nature and stay back. Leave seal pups be. If you are concerned about a pup, call the NOAA hotline @ 1-866-767-6114. To learn more about harbor seals and pups, visit Seal Sitters website here.

"Sentinels of the Sound" beach cleanup to help marine life

Help keep marine life safe! On Saturday, June 4th, from 10am-12pm, come on down to Alki Beach and do your part to keep the sea free of dangerous debris. We will meet at the Statue of Liberty Plaza (Alki Ave SW and 61st Ave SW) in West Seattle. “Sentinels of the Sound” Beach Cleanup is co-sponsored by Seal Sitters MMSN and the Alki Community Council.

Before volunteers disperse to clean up the beach, there will be a brief talk on the devastating impact of trash and debris on marine life.

Did you know that an estimated 80% of marine debris originates from land? Or that 360 billion cigarette butts are discarded in the U.S. alone each year - all of them leaching toxic chemicals into the soil and waterways? At last year’s beach cleanup, volunteers picked up an estimated 9,000 butts from Alki Beach (and adjoining sidewalks and street) in just a few hours.

Did you know that derelict fishing gear and plastics injure and kill many thousands of marine mammals and seabirds annually? All of which can be prevented by careful - and proper - disposal.

For Seal Sitters, derelict fishing gear is a very up close and personal issue. Please visit our website to find out why and for more details about the cleanup. Bags will be provided, but please bring your own gloves and pickup sticks. RSVP is requested.

Learn more about our dangerous waters on Seal Sitters’ website.

Seal Sitters new volunteer training May 23rd

Join Seal Sitters Marine Mammal Stranding Network! Volunteers are not only vital for the protection of seal pups and other marine mammals. We also perform a public service by providing education about marine life and our fragile marine ecosystem to local residents and visitors from around the world.

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.

*Please note:
Every stranding network requires their own unique training -
attending a Seal Sitters MMSN training does not qualify you to volunteer for networks in a differing location.

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 time frame, supplementary sessions will include more marine mammals of Puget Sound).

MONDAY, MAY 23, 2016
6:30pm - 8:30pm (doors open at 6:15pm, training starts promptly at 6:30)
*please arrive early to receive paperwork

(*there is no church affiliation with Seal Sitters MMSN)
front meeting room
6115 SW Hinds St
West Seattle (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.

Gray whale confirmed dead in Puget Sound

Yesterday, Seal Sitters volunteers again contributed to the efforts to monitor the struggling gray whale, which had been floating in Central and South Puget Sound for 15 days. The whale was unable to dive.

Based on a report to OrcaNet and from other members of the marine mammal stranding network, SSMMSN first responders sighted the gray at the entrance to Elliott Bay and tracked the emaciated whale’s movements throughout the afternoon, as it drifted slowly in the currents between West Seattle and Magnolia’s Elliott Bay Marina. Our observations led to a firm belief that the whale had died, as we could see no blows during our lengthy observation.

A number of pleasure craft and tour boats violated the Federal Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) by approaching the whale within mere yards. This, long before official confirmation of the animal’s death. The MMPA law requires a minimum distance of 100 yards from whales. Yesterday’s photos of those vessels in violation are being forwarded to NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement.

As the current drew the whale closer into the very busy shipping lane, it was narrowly missed being struck by tug boats towing barges, container ships and the Washington State Ferries.

Late in the afternoon, a US Coast Guard boat on the water confirmed that the whale was deceased. Because the flukes and pectoral fins are so low beneath the surface, they are not accessible at this time to secure a tow line and enable a necropsy.

Should you spy the whale, please continue to report sightings in a timely manner to OrcaNet’s email so that the stranding network is aware of the location.

If the animal is sighted along the West Seattle shoreline, please contact our hotline as well at 206-905-SEAL (7325).

This has truly been a team effort of the stranding network groups and the public of Puget Sound. Learn more about the work of NOAA’s West Coast Marine Mammal Stranding Network here.

UPDATE: MAY 12, 2016
A necropsy was performed by Cascadia Research with assistance from the Navy, WDFW, NOAA, and the Pt. Townsend Marine Science Center. Due to trauma or illness (as of yet undetermined), gases were trapped in the organs of the whale which prevented the almost 30 ft female juvenile from diving and foraging. The whale was emaciated. Tissue samples have been sent out for tests. For more info and photos, please click here.

Biologists get health assessment of ailing whale

Late this afternoon, biologists from WA Department of Fish and Wildlife - Marine Mammal Investigations and Cascadia Research Collective, members of NOAA’s Marine Mammal Stranding Network (MMSN), were able to get health assessment video of the gray whale languishing in Puget Sound. Once again, Seal Sitters MMSN volunteers provided real-time tracking of the whale’s whereabouts.

NOAA MMSN will be issuing a media statement regarding the gray, which Seal Sitters will share here upon its release.

It is imperative that ALL watercraft stay a minimum of 100 yards from this whale, including paddle boarders and kayakers. Please stay back. Vessels too close will cause undue stress for this ailing whale, protected by Federal law - the Marine Mammal Protection Act - from harassment. Violations will be reported to NOAA’s Office for Law Enforcement.

The stranding network has been able to monitor the location of the whale since its first sighting late last week, keeping the Coast Guard updated so that alerts can be issued when the whale drifts into the very dangerous shipping lane. Timely reports from the public have played a large role in enabling this on-going team effort by the various members of NOAA’s West Coast MMSN.

Struggling gray whale being monitored in Puget Sound

Early this morning, Seal Sitters’ first responders followed up on a report by a pilot of a gray whale languishing in the waters south of Alki Point.

After repeated scans of the surface of Puget Sound’s Central Basin from the Alki Lighthouse to Lincoln Park, the whale was sighted a couple of hundred yards off of Beach Drive - the mottled gray hump of the whale’s back barely visible in the mottled gray waters.

Last night, there was an unconfirmed report of what was believed to be a gray whale, slowly drifting south from Shilshole near Seattle’s Golden Gardens park. Members of the Marine Mammal Stranding Network were put on alert and kept in close contact regarding the animal’s location.

Throughout the morning, Seal Sitters’ volunteers kept a wary eye on the lethargic gray, who was gradually straying out into the main channel shipping lane and at risk for ship strike. Kristin Wilkinson, NOAA’s regional stranding co-coordinator for the West Coast MMSN, was alerted and sent out a notice to the Coast Guard, who broadcast that mariners should avoid the area and keep a distance of 100 yards at all times. Read more about ship strike dangers on our website. Identification photos were sent to Cascadia Research to see if the whale has been in Washington waters before.

The whale was last sighted on the opposite side of the channel and was being monitored offshore by a State Parks ranger.

Each year, gray whales make the long, strenuous migration from Mexico’s Baja California lagoons, headed for summer feeding grounds in Alaska. Along the way, a number of those grays venture into the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the inland waters of Puget Sound. Some, like the whale known as Patch, return annually to forage on the nutrient-rich beds around Whidbey, Camano and Hat islands.

Others are not strong enough to make the 10,000 mile-long journey and perish in our waters. The outcome for this latest gray whale does not look encouraging.

Thanks to our Seal Sitters volunteers who peered through binoculars for hours, keeping tabs on the whale’s behavior and bearings to help keep the animal safe from danger.

All sightings of whales and other cetaceans should be reported as soon as possible to Orca Network via email. Gray whales have mottled gray skin with a distinctive series of knuckles along the back. Humpbacks and other whales have dorsal fins.

If you see a whale entangled or stranded onshore - please call the NOAA West Coast MMSN Hotline immediately at 866-767-6114, giving location and species information. Gray whales do strand somewhat frequently in our waters.

If a whale is along the shoreline of West Seattle, please call the Seal Sitters MMSN hotline at 206-905-SEAL (7325) and then contact Orca Network. This will help enable our first responders to obtain an i.d. photo if at all possible.

Seal pup Doodle visits not once, but three times today

A harbor seal pup near Brace Point kept Seal Sitters’ first responder on her toes this afternoon. The hotline received a call about a pup just barely north of the Point. However, the beach was empty when she arrived.

Thru binoculars, the long stretch of shoreline of Fauntleroy Cove, historically important to Native Americans and one-time site of an ancient burial ground, was carefully scanned. There was no sign of anything between the tideline and woody debris high up near the houses.

Resigned that the pup must have been scared into the water, the responder noticed a furry little shape - nestled in the shadow against a wooden raft, half in the water at such a low tide, far down the beach. Sure enough, there was the pup. And sure enough, there were off leash dogs headed his way. The responder established a wide perimeter, stretching yellow tape between stakes and driftwood. As the tide rose, the alert pup moved a few feet onshore. After resting about an hour, the approximately 7-9 month old pup swam off and disappeared into the blue waters.

The stranding materials were removed from the area after ensuring the pup didn’t have plans to return. The First Responder made the long trek back down the beach, south and around the Point, headed to her car and, theoretically, home. Just as she reached the car, neighbors said a pup crawled ashore about 50 yards away. Once again, tape was stretched and neighbors enthusiastically welcomed our presence and offered assistance. A call was placed to volunteer coordinator Arden and soon volunteer Sarah eagerly showed up to lend a hand.

The pup, nicknamed Doodle, rested somewhat nervously until about 4pm and, once again, swam off.

Huge thanks to Sarah, who has faithfully used Seal Sitters’ online “Doodle” volunteer calendar and entered available times every week for many, many months. Because our pupping season had been so strangely quiet and virtually no weaned pups using the shore over the winter, she had never had the opportunity to protect a pup - until today.

Please call Seal Sitters’ hotline at 206-905-SEAL (7325) if you see a seal onshore. Because of the high number of off leash dogs along Lincoln Park, Fauntleroy Cove and beaches south, it is especially important to have volunteers on-site so seal pups can rest and warm up, free from harassment and harm.

Gray whales return to Puget Sound

The surprise discovery of a gray whale swimming inside Seattle’s Ballard Locks this week startled onlookers and created a media buzz. The thin whale has been seen around the locks since March 21st.

All sightings of whales and other cetaceans should be reported as soon as possible to Orca Network via email. The photo at left shows the typically mottled skin of a gray whale with a distinctive series of knuckles along the back. Humpbacks and other whales have dorsal fins.

If you see the gray whale back in the Locks - or any whale entangled or stranded onshore - please call the NOAA West Coast MMSN Hotline immediately at 866-767-6114, giving location and species information. Gray whales do strand somewhat frequently in our waters.

If a whale is along the shoreline of West Seattle, please call the Seal Sitters MMSN hotline at 206-905-SEAL (7325) and then contact Orca Network. This will help enable our first responders to obtain an i.d. photo if at all possible.

Spring marks the return of gray whales to Puget Sound. Before continuing their 10,000 mile-long migration from the sheltered breeding grounds of Mexico’s Baja California lagoons to their summer feeding grounds in Alaska, these gentle giants detour into our inland waters to forage.

Grays are baleen whales, who forage by scooping up and straining huge quantities of ocean bottom sediment (which contains invertebrates) through their comb-like filters. Along the shores of Whidbey, Hat and Camano islands are beds of ghost shrimp, a favorite food. At low tide, you can often see hollowed out areas of beach where the whales have been feeding. Sadly, a whale can also scoop up human trash that settles on the sandy bottom.

Each year, a number of gray whales take up temporary residency in north Puget Sound, sometimes wandering down into central and south Puget Sound. This spring offers a wonderful opportunity to get out on whale watch boat and observe them from a safe distance. It is imperative that their foraging behavior not be disrupted, so they have the energy to continue their monumental journey north. All marine mammals are protected by Federal law from harassment, the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

UPDATE 4/20/16
A dead gray whale was sighted on the 18th, floating off the waters of Vashon Island. Today, a team from Cascadia Research Collective necropsied the whale, a young male, who has been confirmed as the same gray seen in the Ballard Locks. Read Cascadia’s report here.

Chubby rehabbed pup Paz returns home to Puget Sound

Harbor seal pup Paz, rescued by Seal Sitters from a public West Seattle beach shortly before Christmas, was returned to the vast expanse of Puget Sound yesterday, following a lengthy rehab at PAWS Wildlife Center. At right, the now-tubby pup pauses on the edge of a Coast Guard boat, shortly before disappearing in the water - back home at last.

In December, the female pup was suffering from seizures on a cold and wet afternoon at Jack Block Park, notorious for illegally off-leash dogs. Seal Sitters first responders, authorized members of NOAA’s West Coast Marine Mammal Stranding Network, transported the hypoglycemic and largely unresponsive pup for evaluation at the Lynnwood facility, fearing she would require euthanasia. PAWS rehabbers were able to stabilize and hydrate her and Paz began a long recovery after a tenuous couple of weeks.

Severely emaciated and weighing only 12.8 kgs when rescued, the estimated 7-9 month-old pup was a true “blubberball” at her release on Monday, tilting the scale at 35 kgs (75 lbs). Pups are weaned around 4 weeks of age and are then entirely on their own, often struggling to survive wet fall and winter months. Click here to view a map of harbor seal pupping season in Washington.

It should be noted that only members of NOAA’s Marine Mammal Stranding Network - or their authorized agents - can legally handle and transport marine mammals. It is a violation of Federal Law to touch, feed, move or harass marine mammals. If you see a seal pup on the beach, please contact your local stranding network (network map here).

Thanks to PAWS dedicated staff for nursing the pup back to health. Huge thanks as well to the US Coast Guard Auxiliary boat crew that released Paz back where she belongs, the culmination of a true team effort (view a video of the release on USCG Facebook page).

Sad end for harbor seal pup rescued from beach

Yesterday afternoon at West Seattle’s Duwamish Head, Seal Sitters’ first responders rescued a moribund seal pup from the surf. Sadly, the young male died shortly after transport to PAWS Wildlife Center in Lynnwood.

After observing the pup’s non-responsive behavior, first responders Robin and Lynn scaled the slippery boulders below the sea wall to prevent him from drowning in front of onlookers. The pup was gently carried away from the water’s edge. A call was placed to the rehab facility to make sure that the pup could be received for evaluation and humane euthanasia if necessary. Volunteers Buzz and Gretchen made the long drive in rush hour to deliver the pup to PAWS.

A review of id photos of pups from the 2015 season and responses early this year revealed that this pup was not known to Seal Sitters.

WDFW Marine Mammal Investigations Unit, a fellow member of NOAA’s West Coast Marine Mammal Stranding Network, will perform a necropsy to determine cause of death. The pup would have been born in Puget Sound last year. Harbor seal pups are weaned and on their own after nursing 4-6 weeks.

Thanks to a recent fundraising campaign, Seal Sitters volunteers and supporters have raised money to pay for blood and tissue tests to help offset Federal cutbacks in funding for research. These tests provide valuable data and insight into the mortality of harbor seal populations and help identify disease trends in marine mammals. If you would like to make a donation to help fund this research, please click here.

If you see a seal or sea lion onshore, please allow space and stay back - and call Seal Sitters’ dedicated hotline @ 206-905-SEAL (7325).
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