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Harbor seal pup harassed at Alki Beach - always stay back

(see update at end of post)
A harbor seal pup, trying to come ashore yesterday to get some much-needed rest, was consistently harassed by people and repeatedly scared into Puget Sound. When Seal Sitters MMSN First Responders arrived at sandy Alki Beach, the pup was nowhere in sight. After waiting for about an hour with no sign of the pup, informational signs posted on the seawall above the beach and on the beach itself in hopes it would remind people to STAY AWAY from seal pups.

Within a couple of hours, the pup had returned and was trying to come ashore. Once again, a crowd of people stood too close above the pup and scared him in. Thankfully, Seal Sitters’ First Responder Lynn was out for a walk and a check of the beach.

She managed to get people to step away from the edge and the seal pup returned ashore. Lynn set about taping off the small bit of beach. As she was doing so, an off-leash dog was approaching and Lynn firmly asked the owner to please remove her dog, illegally on the beach.

First Responder Robin and Lynn then proceeded to tape off access to the top of the seawall which was directly above the pup, just feet below. Protected Marine Mammal and Seals Need to Rest info signage was placed at intervals to educate the public. The pup settled into small crannies between the black boulders at the end of the beach. As the incoming tide forced her to move in and out between rocks, we would get glimpses of the stunning pup (photo above), who looked relatively robust for a approximately 7 or 8-month old weaned pup. This pup, nicknamed (Saltwater) Taffy seems to be doing better than our most recent weaners who have been using West Seattle’s shoreline.

Despite rainy and cold weather, there were still alot of people out on a Sunday afternoon. As the tide receded late in the day, the skittish pup - anxious due to the earlier harassment - emerged from his rocky hiding place to stay closer to the waterline for an easier escape if necessary. The down side of this is that the pup was now fully visible from the sidewalk above and only about 25 feet from the wall. Seal Sitters could not increase the depth of the perimeter because we could not force pedestrians into the bike lane or street for public safety concerns.

The increased activity and noise of passersby gathering above her, created undue stress for Taffy. Off-duty First Responders Dana and Melinda lent a helping hand and attempted to keep people moving, asking them to observe from the ends of the perimeter, where they had an unobstructed and closeup view as well. You can see in the photo at left that Taffy is visibly stressed by the activity above and behind her.

The definition of harassment or “take” of a marine mammal as defined by NOAA’s Marine Mammal Protection Act is any human (or domestic dog) presence that causes an animal to change his/her behavior. This most certainly includes the disruption of a seal’s rest and scaring the animal back into the water. ALWAYS STAY BACK from resting seals. Rest is crucial to their survival.

Taffy rested until late into the night as cold and wet volunteers dispersed. During the night, First Responder David tightened up the windblown perimeter, pounding the now-wobbly stakes deeper into the ground and adjusting the length of the tape on the beach to accommodate for the tide.

The pup was gone from the beach at 4:30am and again at 5:30 when volunteers Nicole and Eric checked the perimeter. At 6:30am, Robin arrived the site, but there was still no sign of Taffy. However, shortly afterwards, a river otter came ashore and was doing typical otter behavior of rolling about in the sand - that is, until an off-leash Rottweiler scared him into the Sound. The woman was asked to leash her dog and leave the beach, which she did.

Seal Sitters expects Taffy to return to her chosen haul-out and we certainly expect the public to respect wildlife and share the shore. Stay back, keep dogs and people away and please call Seal Sitters’ hotline 206-905-SEAL (7325) if you see Taffy or any other marine mammal onshore.

PUPDATE 3/29/17
Taffy has been coming and going from this same small stretch of beach at irregular times the past two days. This poses challenges for Seal Sitters First Responders trying their best to ensure she can get the rest she needs, free from harassment. Taffy seems pretty healthy as far as we can tell and we’d like to keep it that way - free from stress, which causes health issues in seals, just as it does in humans.

Seal Sitters relies on the public for reports to our hotline 206-905-SEAL (7325) so that we can respond in a timely manner.
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