July 4th no "blast" for newborn seal pups - or other wildlife
Jul/02/12 05:00 PM
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. 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.
If you are boating or kayaking, please stay far away from resting harbor seals. In 2010 the network documented a speeding boat intentionally flushing seals from a protected island rookery with a sign posted “closed harbor”. In the photos below, you can see hundreds of seals, including pregnant females and many newborn pups, on the beach. The boat scared the resting seals, flushing them into the water. A female was giving birth right at that very moment and, terrified, she left her newborn pup, still in a bloody birth sac, alone on the deserted beach. The mom had no time to memorize the scent or call of her pup, which often leads to abandonment. Thankfully, a full 20 minutes after the boat left with the people onboard laughing, the mom returned to nurse her pup. More often than not, that pup would have been abandoned and slowly starved to death.
It is not a laughing matter to harass seals. It is a matter of life and death and a violation of federal law, the Marine Mammal Protection Act. This incident was investigated by NOAA’s Office for Law Enforcement. Harassment is not just poking with sticks (yes, we have witnessed that) or scaring an animal back into the water - any change in an animal’s behavior caused by your presence is considered a “take” by law. Many state parks on islands in the San Juans and South Puget Sound have harbor seal rookeries - do not approach animals by boat or by landing nearby. Please, be respectful and move your party elsewhere.
Boat launches and docks can have newborn or weaned pups sleeping on them or nearby, often in danger from propeller strikes or being run over by boat trailers. In some coastal areas, people are allowed to drive vehicles on the beach itself. On July 4th weekend last year, a pup was run over and killed on the beach at Ocean Shores - other animals, sick or weak and unable to move quickly, have been run over on beaches at Westport (California sea lion pup), Long Beach Peninsula (California sea lion), and Twin Harbors (adult harbor seal) at different times of the year. Please report any pup (or adult) that is at a dangerous location or being harassed to your local stranding network.
It goes without saying that fireworks cause pups to be abandoned every year on beaches throughout Puget Sound and the Washington and Oregon coasts. Please be aware of your surroundings and give animals a break this holiday. Celebrate responsibly and you just might save the life of a seal pup - or fawn or baby bird.