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Seal superhero rescues Spanky

Seal Sitters volunteers had some extremely anxious hours yesterday and today worried about seal pup Spanky. Around 4pm yesterday, an alert volunteer observing from the far end of the tape perimeter noticed Spanky repositioning himself on a high rock just below the sea wall. Spanky lost his balance and fell backwards, deep into a hole surrounded by a pile of huge boulders. Volunteers waited nervously to see if he could somehow climb back up or find an escape route at the bottom. Unfortunately, there was no escape option for Spanky and a low tide meant he had no water to help elevate him. Volunteers scaled the wall and inspected Spanky’s predicament, but there was no way we could reach in far enough to pull him out. Fire Department officials offered sympathy, but could not help because of insurance and liability issues. We knew the high tide at almost 1am this morning would not be high enough - and that the next high tide was not for another full 12 hours after that. Would it even be high enough for him to maneuver out and over the steep, slick rocks?

We turned to WDFW Marine Mammal Investigations’ biologist Dyanna Lambourn for her usual sage advice. She thought perhaps with a snare we could loop his back flippers and pull him up. So, that was the game plan put into action for this morning. Having spent a long and stressful night, Spanky was still trapped inside the hole at 6am, but was alert - a good sign. WDFW scientific technician Josh Oliver picked up a snare from WDFW Wildlife Enforcement (after they successfully captured a sedated black bear) and made the long drive up from the Lakewood office. By the time he arrived, the incoming tide had encouraged Spanky to start investigating a jailbreak, with the water boosting him high enough in the hole that he could begin clawing his way up. Josh arrived just as Spanky was trying to squeeze his body through too small an opening - had Spanky become wedged there, he could have drowned in the rising tide. Like a true seal superhero, Josh jumped down onto the rocks above Spanky, reached in and grabbed his rear flippers and pulled the surprised pup to safety. It all happened so fast that both Spanky and the volunteers were stunned. Josh did a quick exam of the pup and, seeing no injuries of concern, urged him back into the Sound for a midday snack. We can’t thank Dyanna and Josh enough for freeing this enchanting pup, a landmark along Alki since we first found him on October 5th.

This incident just reinforces how vulnerable pups are when perched precariously on the rocks as the tide recedes. The slightest disturbance can startle them and cause a fall. This is the fourth long fall of a pup that we have documented this year. The other three incidents (seal pups Henry, Umbreon, and Sly) were caused by people who came far too close either on the beach or from the water. While Spanky’s tumble was not human or dog related, standing too close above a pup on the seawall can easily have these same results. Seal Sitters wants to thank everyone who has been so respectful of the stranding network’s tape perimeters, established so that Spanky could rest safely. We will keep you posted if our gregarious pup returns!
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