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Street banners a reminder to "Share the Shore" with seal pups

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Any day now, or so we hope, tiny harbor seal pups will be visiting West Seattle shores to rest and warm up. Each September and October across South and Central Puget Sound, pups venture out on their own after being weaned in area rookeries, where hundreds of seals gather and there is safety in numbers.

No longer protected by their moms and naive to the dangers around them, the pups are vulnerable on urban beaches. Many will have never seen a human or off-leash dog.

Likewise, many people have never encountered a seal pup. They don’t understand that it’s normal for one to be alone on the beach. All seals need to rest 50% of the day out of the water, whether on land, docks or offshore platforms. While it is human nature to want to “help” a pup return to the water or feed him/her, that is truly the last thing that should be done. All marine mammals are protected from harassment by Federal and Washington State law (read the most common mistakes - and consequences here).

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Rest is critical to seal pups’ survival, with a 50% mortality the first year. More often than not, weaners struggle, losing the thick layer of blubber they gain by nursing on rich milk - blubber which provides warmth and energy. Now, they are dependent entirely on their own limited hunting skills. Along with dwindling numbers of small forage fish, such as herring, this can be a daunting task for a pup.

On Thursday morning, Dan Campau and James Lohman of Seattle Parks installed Seal Sitters’ “Share the Shore” street banners, which serve to remind residents and visitors that we are in the midst of pupping season in our area. The 10 graphic banners are hung annually from street poles along the popular stretch of sandy Alki Beach - busy with hundreds of people enjoying volleyball, frisbee, kayaking, biking and picnicking; the same Alki Beach where tired seal pups haul out to try to find a quiet place to rest. It is a challenge for SSMMSN volunteers to keep them safe from harassment and harm.

The banner artwork is by New York illustrator Nancy Stahl, based on an image by photographer (and SSMMSN Lead Investigator) Robin Lindsey. Seal Sitters initiated the project as part of a Department of Neighborhoods grant for educational outreach in the West Seattle community in 2011.

After a flurry of four newborn pups in West Seattle this June (only one survived), Seal Sitters MMSN has experienced an unusually quiet July and August. Each season seems to have its oddities and September and October are by far our busiest months. SSMMSN averages 200 responses to marine mammals annually in West Seattle (70% during seal pupping season). A whopping 90% of those responses are to harbor seal pups, who come ashore all along West Seattle’s miles of largely public-accessible shoreline.

If you see a pup on shore, please stay far back, leash and remove dogs from the beach (dogs are not allowed under any circumstances on Seattle beaches), and call Seal Sitters’ hotline @ 206-905-SEAL (7325).
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