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Volunteers put in long hours looking after pups

Dedicated volunteers have been putting in many long hours protecting seal pups along Alki Beach since sunrise Monday morning. One pup (at right), nicknamed Kitten by a some youngsters who quietly studied him snoozing below the sea wall, seems to have chosen this relatively quiet spot on the beach for his haul-out, well away from the bustle of the main beach and volleyball nets.

Volunteers looked over him in shifts, talking to the public and letting people know that undisrupted rest is vital to a pup’s survival. Much to our surprise, that evening another pup flopped ashore right next to two women picnicking on the beach. They quickly gathered up their blankets and cooler and graciously moved down the beach. They named the pup Irie, which means happy in the Jamaican language. Both pups returned to the Sound at almost precisely the same moment, about 8pm.

Kitten, who is a “weaner” with fully erupted teeth, is definitely thinner than we’d like to see. He was back on shore at 6am yesterday morning along with Irie, who returned to the water about 6:30am. Kitten apparently needs more rest and stayed on the beach until late last night before finally returning to the Sound to forage.

It could be another long day for volunteers, such as Ruby shown at right drawing seals in her sketchpad while on duty. Huge flipper hugs to Tammy and Alki Juice and Java for extending a special coffee and hot chocolate discount to our volunteers!

Seal pup Irie was found dead near the Alki Bathhouse on August 31st. The thin pup was not fresh enough for necropsy and was marked for identification purposes with biodegradable spray paint and returned to the Sound.

We are so sad to report that Kitten was found dead on private beach yesterday morning and transported for necropsy by WDFW-MMI in Lakewood. The female pup weighed only 7.9 kg with a .3 cm blubber thickness. A normal thickness for robust pup is between 2.5 and 3 cm. She was suffering from gastroenteritis.

Sentinels of the Sound sculpture finally hauls out on Alki Beach

Early Thursday morning, prominent NW sculptor Georgia Gerber, Randy Hudson (husband and fellow artist) and Virginia Keck (decades-long assistant) made the long trek from Whidbey Island with the “Sentinels of the Sound” sculpture carefully secured in the back of their pickup. Arriving at Alki Beach at 6:30am, they were met by several Seal Sitters volunteers, eager to help with the installation of the long-awaited sculpture.

Several hours later, after precise measurements and boring of holes, the sculpture was bolted and cemented into place onto the rock especially designed to support it, courtesy of the artistry of Turnstone Construction. The work is the culmination of Seal Sitters’ Year of the Seal educational outreach project.

4-year-old Max was the very first person to pose for a photo op with the newly installed piece - and a steady stream of admirers, young and old, has followed suit throughout the weekend.

A dedication ceremony will take place on “Harbor Seal Day”, September 8th at 1:30 at the installation site just north of the Alki Bathhouse (2701 Alki Ave SW). The public will have an opportunity to meet and thank Georgia for this stunning work of art. The Bathhouse will be open from 1-4pm, featuring environmental groups and children’s activities.

Check back for a video of the installation of the sculpture.

Busy days for seal pups and Seal Sitters

Seal Sitters volunteers have been kept on the run from 6am til after dark most days so far this week. On Tuesday, there was a resting pup (nicknamed Curly for his/her long and curvy whiskers) at the north end of Lincoln Park. Newly weaned, Curly spent the night on the beach, but returned to shore after only a brief early breakfast. He settled in for another snooze, but left soon thereafter.

Just about the same time Tuesday afternoon, seal pup BellaBaby returned for the second day in a row to Emma Schmitz viewpoint park. Bella snoozed throughout the night, but was gone the following morning. Volunteers watched after both pups until darkness fell. Due to safety concerns for our volunteers we do not usually stand guard all night, especially in remote locations such as Lincoln Park.

Wednesday was a crazy day for volunteers. After Curly returned to Puget Sound at Lincoln Park, we received another call about a pup near Cormorant Cove. This pup was terribly thin, but managed to crawl across a long expanse of open beach back to the water.

Immediately afterwards, the hotline received a call about a pup at Constellation Beach (Charles Richey Viewpoint Park). Whipping on a pair of dry socks, our responder quickly arrived to meet the reporting party, Mark and his 6 year old son Matthew. This pup was high on the beach and Matthew helped get a large perimeter taped off around the sleeping pup.

Matthew named the pup Wilson after his “Granpa Wilson.” Wilson (photo left) was reluctant to return to the water even as the tide swept over him. Just when we thought he might go out foraging for food, he scooted further up on the rocks. As an attentive and delighted crowd watched from the sidewalk, Wilson snoozed just below them until late that night. We believe now that Wilson might not be weaned, based on photos of a partial yawn showing that some teeth have not fully erupted. Hopefully, there is a mom out there who will help him pack on some much-needed blubber.

We received a report yesterday afternoon that a group of 8 “teenagers” with 2 pit bulls went under the tape and down the ramp (where Wilson had last been sleeping) around midnight. The witness called 911, but wisely did not confront the group and left the area. We are following up with the SW Precinct on this report. There was no evidence of foul play at the scene yesterday morning, but we did not see Wilson all day. We can only hope that if Wilson was still on the beach, this tired and thin pup was able to escape harm.

Pupping season hits West Seattle with two seal pups in two days

Seal Sitters’ hotline has been busy the last two days with reports of pups on the beach. Last evening we received a call from two of our newest volunteers who came upon a pup at Alki near the Statue of Liberty. When responders arrived minutes later, the alert pup was nestled behind a log with curious people too close. The crowd was asked to step back to allow him to settle in and rest.

Volunteers such as Dave (at right) talked at length to passersby. Terrianne, on her first day of duty as a Seal Sitter, named the active pup Perky. Perky settled in for a long nap as the sun set and spent a quiet night within the perimeter. He was sound asleep this morning at 5:39am and returned to the Sound about 6:45. Perky had good body weight and appears to be recently weaned.

This afternoon the hotline rang with a call about a pup on the steps at Emma Schmitz Viewpoint Park. Thanks to reporting party Melissa for protecting the pup until we arrived. The thin pup was on the bottom step with the tide lapping against her and returned briefly to the Sound, only to emerge moments later on a very small stretch of beach right next to two young people. Quickly gathering up their belongings, they left the beach to give the pup some much-needed space. Photos of the yawning pup revealed fully erupted teeth, indicating she is no longer nursing on mom’s rich milk.

Despite the yellow tape perimeter and signs clearly posting that a seal pup was resting on the beach, the tape was breached. We need to remind people that “harassment” by definition of the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) is not just poking, feeding, or moving animals. ANY disturbance, even waking a pup, is considered a violation of Federal law.

Nicknamed BellaBaby, shown here taking a brief dip in the cool Sound on this hot afternoon, the pup rested until after dark under the protective watch of volunteers. Thanks to all our dedicated volunteers who have put in very long hours the past two days (and nights)! These newly weaned pups need all the help they can get from a respectful public in their struggle to survive without mom. Stress-free rest is critical.

PUPDATE (8/20/13 7:31am)
BellaBaby was still resting on the beach this morning as the tide was receding. She may well spend several more hours there, gaining strength before returning to forage and, hopefully, pack on some much-needed blubber.

Kids' Art and Story contest deadline extended

In order to allow more children to participate, the deadline for Seal Sitters’ Art and Story contest deadline has been extended to August 25th. Prizes will be awarded on Sunday afternoon, September 8th at our “Harbor Seal Day” sculpture dedication and educational outreach event at Alki Beach. All entries will be on display at the Alki Bathhouse. Read more about the contest and rules here.

In addition to educational outreach booths for both adults and children, there will be activities for kids at Harbor Seal Day, including face painting, a puppet show booth and art crafts.

Snapper taken to rehab as options dwindle for struggling pups

About 8pm Monday evening, hotline operator Sharon answered a call about a seal pup on the beach north of Colman Pool at Lincoln Park. Several concerned folks watched over the pup until our responder could get on site. She found a horribly skinny pup resting soundly near the sea wall. A tape perimeter was quickly established on the path, but before tape could be stretched on the beach a couple approached with their large dog. At our request, they did remove the dog from the beach, but the woman insisted it was a “public beach” and it was her right to continue walking past the pup. After a terse exchange, she did finally detour up onto the walking path.

Yes, this is a Seattle public beach (and, therefore, dogs are NOT allowed), but it is also a beach that wildlife has a right to use, too. This exhausted, emaciated pup desperately needed a place to rest and it is hardly unreasonable to ask someone to go a few yards out of their way to help a wild animal survive. Not to mention, the Marine Mammal Protection Act protects these animals by law. Having already rescued a newborn pup early that morning because of human harassment resulting in abandonment, our responder was in no mood to have this struggling pup harassed as well.

Volunteers watched over the pup until dark, who spent the night on the beach and returned to the Sound about 8am Tuesday (see photo). Later in the day, we received a call from NOAA that a listless pup was at Cormorant Cove. The male pup, nicknamed Snapper and weighing just 8.8 kgs, was taken from the beach to PAWS Wildfife Center and is confirmed by spot identification to be the same Lincoln Park pup.

It is unfortunate to have to report that all of the spaces for rehabilitation are now full - almost all of the seal pups at PAWS had to be taken there because of human interference. This means that there are no options for helping seal pups for possibly up to two months - seal pup rehab is challenging, lengthy and expensive. NOAA wants these few spots reserved for animals that have been victims of human interaction - whether fishing gear injuries, illegal removal from a beach, causing abandonment by a seal mom, etc. If there were fewer cases of human interference, we would have more options to help other emaciated seal pups like Snapper.

STAY AWAY FROM RESTING SEAL PUPS! Yesterday, an abandoned pup had to be relocated from a small island to a nearby harbor seal rookery in hopes another nursing mom will adopt him. When the biologist arrived on Cutts Island, there was a family sun-bathing within feet of the tiny, skinny pup. Is it any wonder mom did not return when this island’s small seal colony is continually harassed by boaters who party within feet of them?

Sparkle, the newborn pup abandoned near Alki Beach due to harassment, is stabilized at PAWS and was outside in a pool yesterday morning. Snapper had an infected wound on his flipper (being treated by antibiotics), but thus far his most daunting battle is recovering from being so underweight.

We are so sad to report that Sparkle was euthanized at PAWS on September 9th. Veterinarian Dr. John Huckabee believes Sparkle’s immune system was not functioning properly, as she struggled the entire time she was there with digestive issues, ear and other infections and a heart murmur.

Seal pup Sparkle, victim of human interference, taken to rehab

Early this morning, newborn seal pup Sparkle was taken from a private beach and transported to PAWS Wildlife Center for stabilization and treatment. The pup, along with several adult seals and a yearling, had been harassed for a number of days as they tried to rest on an offshore platform near Alki Beach (post below). The other seals left the area and the tiny, vulnerable pup was left alone as a steady stream of people in power boats, canoes and kayaks broke federal law by coming way too close to her, some even close enough to touch the raft.

First responders David and Eilene kept watch through their scope last evening, trying to determine if mom might return to nurse her pup, but Sparkle was still alone at 9pm. They saw her leave the raft and, luckily, a neighbor noticed the pup come ashore on the private beach, quickly alerting our volunteers. Under cover of darkness and incoming tide, the pup would be relatively safe for the night. At 5am, lead investigator Robin found Sparkle sound asleep in the same spot and began the process of arranging her rescue - a call to PAWS to ensure they had space, emailing health assessment photos to WDFW’s Dyanna Lambourn for consult (thank you, Dyanna, for your sage advice) and lining up volunteers Lynn and Lars to assist in the capture.

This is a classic case of the drastic negative impact humans can have on wildlife. As explained in MANY prior posts, a harbor seal mom will abandon her pup if there is human disturbance, fleeing from danger. This poor pup, dropping weight each day because she could not forage on her own, was doomed to death by starvation because of this harassment. We appreciate the many concerned waterfront owners who kept us abreast of the violations by boaters and helped monitor Sparkle’s health.

Thankfully, the pup came ashore and we were able to capture and transport her. There is no guarantee the emaciated pup will survive - and because of people’s insensitivity and carelessness, even after months of fattening up in rehab, Sparkle will not have learned valuable life lessons from mom, such as how to forage successfully and interact with other seals.

PUPDATE 7:30pm
PAWS confirms that Sparkle is female and weighs a mere 6.6 kg. Despite a bloody umbilicus there appears to be no infection, but she has multiple punctures on her hind flippers. We will keep you updated about Sparkle’s progress.

Sparkle was euthanized at PAWS this morning. Veterinarian Dr. John Huckabee believes Sparkle’s immune system was not functioning properly, as she struggled the entire time she was there with digestive issues, ear and other infections and a heart murmur.

Boat harassment endangers life of newborn seal pup - stay back!

Seal Sitters’ first harbor seal pup of the season was sighted on Thursday afternoon. A number of children peered through Seal Sitters’ spotting scope aimed at an offshore platform far down the beach. Nicknamed Sparkle by 5 1/2 year old Aubrey visiting with her Tumwater day camp, the very tiny pup was observed trying to suckle on three different adults and a yearling who were resting on the raft. The pup was calling “maaaaaaaaaa”. We were not certain if one of the adults was indeed the pup’s mom - and still are not.

What we’re certain of now, however, is that the pup is between 4-10 days old. Based on our photo obtained yesterday, showing a shred of umbilicus still attached, WDFW’s marine mammal biologist estimated the age is closer to 4 days. Because of the high disturbance yesterday of racing outrigger canoes and boat traffic, the adults quickly abandoned the platform yesterday morning, leaving newborn Sparkle and a larger yearling as the sole occupants. The adults never returned and as of late last night, the platform was empty.

        mmpa-violation8_03_13Throughout the day, a steady stream of kayakers and boaters came way too close to the platform, some within only a few yards - harassment in the eyes of NOAA Office for Law Enforcement (OLE) and a violation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Stay back from all resting seals, whether on rafts, docks, buoys or shore. Incidents (such as the one shown of two kayakers) are being documented and photographic evidence of violations will be sent to OLE for investigation. Violations are punishable by fine and severe violations are punishable by jail time. Read more about boater guidelines here.

What’s all the fuss? Adult harbor seals have learned of the dangers of humans and dogs and are very wary of disturbance. If there is too much activity around a mom’s pup, she may flee the area and abandon him. Because of the constant activity around the platform, this tiny pup who cannot survive on his own, may have been given a death sentence by boaters who insisted on coming too close - potentially permanently scaring the mom away. Human interference has dire consequences for seal pups, often resulting in death.

We want the seals to be able to depend on use of this lone platform (until recently, there were two more providing sanctuary at this location) to rest and regulate their body temperature. Undisrupted, stress-free rest is critical to their survival. If they are chased from this safe refuge, they must turn to the beach - with the dangers of off leash dogs and unwitting beach-goers. This tiny pup would be helpless alone on the beach without a mother’s protection. Please respect seals’ space and stay back 100 yards whenever possible. This also includes people observing the platform from shore - please watch from a distance and not directly across from the seals which causes undue stress. If you’d like information on building an off shore platform to help wildlife survive, please contact us.

No "butts" about it - Alki Beach cleanup a success

Early this morning, 56 adults and children concerned about our marine environment (like 8 year old London from Nevada shown here with her grandmother Jimi), gathered near the Alki Bathhouse intent on cleaning up trash from Alki Beach. Seal Sitters’ Robin Lindsey spoke briefly about the two marine mammals serving as inspiration for the bi-annual event: seal pup Sandy and the Arroyos gray whale, both of whom suffered grave consequences from marine debris and trash. Kathryn Davis of Puget Soundkeeper Alliance talked about the importance of keeping the Sound free of trash and pollution - and the many ways we can make a positive impact.

Because yesterday was such a dreary, rainy day with not too many beach-goers, there was not the typical overflow of Friday night garbage strewn all over the sidewalks and beach. However, we assured everyone they would find lots of small, harmful trash - including many cigarette butts. In fact, well over an estimated thousand cigarette butts were picked up in a matter of hours along with plastics and paper.

Why are cigarette filters so harmful? First of all they contain plastic and are often mistaken for food by marine animals and birds. The part of the butt that looks like cotton is actually a cellulose acetate that biodegrades very slowly in the environment. Butts can take up to 5 years to break down in sea water. Since filters are designed to absorb tar and nicotine, they are laced with these toxins as well as lead and cadmium. Within an hour of coming into contact with water, the butts begin to release chemicals. Butts don’t have to be discarded at the beach to end up in our water. They wash down sidewalks and street gutters into storm drains that lead to the rivers, bays and Puget Sound. An estimated 4.5 TRILLION cigarette butts are discarded world-wide each year, leaching toxins into the soil and waterways.

The beach cleanup was a great success - all in all, over 100 hours of volunteer time were donated this morning (we’re still tallying the hours) to help keep all of us and the wildlife we love safe. We thank everyone for their hard work and passion! And a special thanks to SS hotline guru Larry Carpenter for puling everything together to make this happen.
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