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WDFW Sealcam offers real-time view of harbor seal rookery

For an intimate peek at life in a protected harbor seal rookery, check out Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Sealcam. The rookery is located on an island in South Puget Sound that is loaded with seal moms and newborn pups, along with a number of pregnant females who just might give birth while you’re tuned in. Watch this little slice of heaven on earth here. The camera angle changes during the day so sometimes you will see more seals than at other times. The optimum time to view is late afternoon and early evening, but make sure you check the sealcam often!

Also, make sure while you’re on the site to link to WDFW intern Erin D’Agnese’s blog about her studies at the rookery this season. Her master’s project is to study pup rearing success of female harbor seals at a long-term study site. You can find out why you see bowling balls on shore amid the resting and nursing animals. Read this Western Washington University student’s blog here.

Harbor seal birth at Elliott Bay Marina

For those of you who may have missed the news, Elliott Bay Marina harbormaster Brian Kaloper noticed something unusual Monday on the surveillance video - a harbor seal mom giving birth on the dock. All local news media picked up the video clip which shows the mom struggling a bit to get the baby out, but all ended well. The dock was locked to prevent human interference until the mom and pup could bond, rest and then venture off for baby’s first swim!

To view the video, check out KING 5’s link to the story here.

Harbor seal pups are being born all over the South Puget Sound area now. Please be alert as you walk the beach - or even the dock out to your boat. Contact the Northwest Marine Mammal Stranding Network if you come across a pup - or, if you are lucky enough to see a mom with newborn pup, make sure you stay well back to prevent abandonment and notify the network.

Seal Sitters offers last volunteer training of the season August 12

On Monday evening, August 12th, Seal Sitters will be holding a special training for those wanting to protect marine mammals along the shoreline of West Seattle and the Duwamish River. This will be the last training session offered until late fall/winter, after harbor seal pupping season has ended. Unlike most marine mammal stranding networks, we encourage children to participate in Seal Sitters - supervised at all times, of course, by a parent or guardian. We are so proud of our amazing and dedicated volunteers who are on duty rain or shine - we hope you will join us!

A multi-media presentation will illustrate our educational work in the community and the unique challenges of protecting seals and other marine mammals in an urban environment. Included in the training is an overview of NOAA's Northwest Marine Mammal Stranding Network and biology and behavior of seals and other pinnipeds (due to time frame, supplementary sessions will include more marine mammals of Puget Sound). We will also be discussing our educational outreach project, Year of the Seal, culminated with the installation of a sculpture of a harbor seal mom and pup at Alki Beach.

There will be NO training sessions during the height of pupping season (late summer - fall), due to time constraints on volunteers. RSVP for this event. For additional questions and info or to be placed on a contact list for future training opportunities, please email us.

When: Monday, August 12, 2013
Time: 6:30pm - 8:30pm (training starts promptly at 6:30)
Where: Alki Bathhouse, 2701 Alki Ave SW (map it)
RSVP required to assure seating.

Seal pups in a daily struggle to survive - please give them space

UPDATE 7/26 3:45pm
The Olympia pup, positively identified, is not in danger, but instead is a healthy-looking
weaned pup exhibiting normal behavior. The report of a “starving...abandoned” pup caused a media flurry and demands of rescue from the public, but the pup in question was observed today sneaking a bit of milk from a female nursing her own offspring. Often, a pup will call out with a plaintive “maaaaaaaa” even after weaning, seeking an easier meal from a female’s nipple than searching for tiny fish in the waters of Puget Sound. This pup should and will stay in the wild - like all pups whenever possible. (note: Adding to confusion, video footage widely shown by one Seattle tv station is of a nursing age pup - not the one originally reported to authorities and photographed by The Olympian)

In the first year of life, a harbor seal pup is in a constant struggle to survive. With a 50% mortality rate in the wild, they must overcome many challenges: disease, infection, predation by shoreline predators or domestic dogs, conditions caused by premature birth, dehydration and starvation. This is, unfortunately, a fact of life - and death.

The current media coverage and resultant firestorm to rescue a “starving” seal pup in the Olympia area has overlooked some very important points. First of all, the pup is in a protected harbor seal haul-out and rookery. Each year, seals use a log boom in this bay to give birth and nurse their young (photo at left). Yesterday’s seal count at this thriving rookery, including logs just to the south, was 245 seals, of which 75 were pups. And each year at this rookery, between 5 and 20 pups die during pupping season, late June through September. In a nearby rookery, 30-60 pups die. The mortality rate at this rookery may be lower because it is indeed situated on the log boom, and much easier for seals to escape disturbance from eagles and coyotes (and boaters) because they are able to slip off into the water for protection. A number of pups may die and disappear into the water so are unaccounted for. This is the harsh reality of life for wild animals. Not every one survives nor should every one be rescued.

There has been a public outcry that the “abandoned” pup must be taken for rehabilitation. However, this pup is known to have come and gone from the logs into the water multiple times. There are many, many seals nearby. It has been documented in this and other rookeries that females will sometimes adopt an abandoned pup, nursing two at once (they only give birth to one pup). The body weight of this pup suggests that he or she might be sneaking milk from another mom - a female will sometimes relent to a persistent “sneaker”. And the possibility is not entirely ruled out that the pup is being nursed at night.

Rehabilitation is not the answer for all seal pups. First of all, many of them will not survive the stress of being captured and transported by car or truck to an authorized facility hours away. We must weigh many issues before making a decision to remove a pup from the wild. Even if they are rehabilitated and released months later with a dense layer of blubber, that does not ensure they will thrive in the wild. They still have only a 50% chance of survival their first year. A pup that has not been taught to hunt by mom has much less chance to forage successfully. A study by Sea Doc Society revealed that rehabbed pups travel much farther in search of food than wild-weaned pups, wasting precious calories. A human tossing fish into a small pool does not replicate catching fast-swimming fish in expansive waters. Rehabilitation does not guarantee an animal’s survival post release. Additionally, Washington has no major marine mammal rehab facilities. There is extremely limited space for lengthy pup rehabilitation, so each decision to remove an animal from the wild is on a case by case basis taking into account numerous factors. Read NOAA’s policy on harbor seal pup rehabilitation here.

The question has been asked, “What is the harm in helping him?” In reality, there is much harm that can be done. We cannot jeopardize the health of the many pups at this or any rookery in hopes of saving one. This time of year in Puget Sound, pups are being born every single day. If humans intervene and disrupt the normal activity in these areas, other pups may well be abandoned and starve to death. Human disturbance has serious consequences.

Seal Sitters supports the decision not to intervene in this case - and there is the fervent hope that this pup will make it. Sadly, we can’t save all seal pups. And many would argue, it is not our place in nature to do so. It is heartbreaking for any member of the Marine Mammal Stranding Network to have to observe a struggling pup and respect nature’s role. We are passionate about keeping seal populations healthy and thriving - and do everything we can to give pups the space to get stress-free rest, away from human interference. Not every seal pup will survive this pupping season and we all share sadness in that hard fact - but know that there is a reason for this very fragile balance of nature.

Do not take matters into your own hands if you come across a pup - they are protected by Federal law. It is illegal to feed, touch or move a pup. If you break the law and take a pup to a wildlife facility, they cannot legally treat the animal. NOAA’s Office for Law Enforcement will investigate all instances of human interference. Call NOAA’s stranding hotline at 800-853-1964 to report a pup you are concerned about.

Please read NOAA’s most recent Q&A publication “Share the Shore with Harbor Seal Pups” here. The document describes the life processes of harbor seals, what to do if you come across a pup and NOAA’s policy on rehabilitation. Please do “Share the Shore” and observe these magnificent animals quietly from a distance.

Please note: The Olympian newspaper which originally broke the story of a “starving” pup has now updated their website with the news that the pup is indeed a healthy, weaner.

Hotwire coffee drink helps seals and Seal Sitters

West Seattle’s Hotwire Online Coffeehouse, known for hand-made coffee and organic milk, has created a decadently delicious coffee drink to benefit Seal Sitters. Dubbed the “Seal Sitters Coffee”, it’s a blend of blueberry and mint dark chocolate mocha. If you purchase the 12 oz drink, $3 will be donated to help further our work, protecting marine mammals and doing educational outreach to the community. Hang out with a cup of “joe” on Hotwire’s cozy outdoor patio and help seal pups when they haul out. Hotwire is located in the Alaska Junction at 4410 California Avenue SW.

Thanks so much to Hotwire’s Lora Swift for her generosity - and special thanks to Seal Sitters volunteers Chris Witwer and JoDean Edelheit for securing this donation on our behalf. An all-volunteer group, we receive no funding from NOAA, the State or City for our service and these contributions will help to defray our operating expenses. Hotwire rocks!

"Sentinels of the Sound" beach cleanup in honor of seal pup Sandy

Make a difference and join us to remove litter from Alki Beach on Saturday, August 3rd. Seal Sitters' Year of the Seal: Sentinels of the Sound project is intended to raise awareness of the impact that humans have on our fragile marine ecosystem (to follow progress of our YOS project on blubberblog, click here).

Harbor seals (who do not migrate and are year-round residents) and orcas, both animals at the top of the food chain, are especially hard hit by pollutants from storm runoff and microplastics which are stored in their blubber. A 2005 study showed that harbor seals of South Puget Sound were 7 times more contaminated with PCBs than those of Canada's Georgia Strait. The orcas of Puget Sound are the most contaminated marine mammals in the world.

All marine life is endangered by marine debris and pollution. Many, many thousands of marine animals and sea birds die each year from derelict fishing gear, marine debris and pollution. They are entangled and drowned by nets and gear. Strangled and contaminated by plastics.

This year's beach cleanup events will once again be in honor of seal pup Sandy who was rescued from a West Seattle beach in August of 2011, rehabilitated at PAWS Wildlife Center, and then released back to the wild in January of 2012. Sandy was fitted with a satellite tag (glued to her fur which would be shed when she molted) to monitor her success in the wild and provide valuable data to biologists about foraging patterns of rehabbed seals. Sixty-six days later, Sandy was found dead, entangled in derlict fishing line off the Edmonds Pier. Read more about Sandy.

Sandy has truly put a face on pollution. Trash on the beach becomes treacherous in the water. You can make a difference! Help keep our beaches clean and our sea life safe.
Read more about marine pollution here.

We would also like to honor the memory of the Arroyos gray whale who stranded and died in 2010. The
necropsy revealed that there was no food in the thin juvenile male's stomach - only human trash.

Seal Sitters, along with co-sponsors Alki Community Council and Seattle Department of Parks and Recreation, will hold a cleanup of West Seattle's Alki Beach on Saturday, August 3 from 9am-noon. We will assemble at Alki's Statue of Liberty plaza (61st Ave SW and Alki Ave SW). Please RSVP for this event so we have enough bags and equipment on hand.

Read about last year's event

Don't touch seal pups! Rash of illegal pickups endanger pups

Sadly, here have been 5 illegal pickup cases the past week in Puget Sound involving very young harbor seal pups. Of these, one pup was reunited with mom, two died and two are in rehab. All cases are being investigated by NOAA’s Office for Law Enforcement.

It is against Federal law, the Marine Mammal Protection Act, to touch, feed or move a seal pup. Violations are subject to stiff fines and can include jail time, depending on the severity of the crime.

One of the most common wrong assumptions that people make is thinking that a pup needs to be in the water, not on shore. Pups haul out to rest and warm up from our very frigid Northwest waters. Never return a pup to the water. They need to rest - on beaches, log booms, docks - even, occasionally, passing kayaks and paddle boards. Never cover a pup with a blanket - they can overheat and suffer brain damage.

During pupping season (June - September in South Puget Sound), it’s not unusual for a pup to suckle rocks or logs when mom isn’t around. The newborn pup shown here, with a long, white lanugo coat usually shed in the womb, was suckling on rocks and calling for mom, who returned to tend to her offspring. A newborn will still have a bit of the umbilicus cord protruding. It is not an “injury” as many people think and usually falls off after a week or so. If you see a pup you are concerned about, call the stranding network - don’t touch or try to feed the pup.

Share the shore. If you see a seal pup, stay back - 100 yards whenever possible. The best chance a pup has for survival is to stay in the wild, undisturbed by humans. If a pup is under 4-6 weeks old and is alone on the beach, almost always mom is nearby. If she sees people or dogs (a significant danger) too close, she may well abandon the pup who cannot survive without her. A pup taken to rehab does not have nearly the chance to make it back in the wild as a pup who remains there with mom, learning how to forage and gaining immunity from disease while nursing on her rich milk. Even then, pups have a 50% mortality rate their first year.

Never take a pup from the beach. Only members of NOAA’s Marine Mammal Stranding Network or NOAA authorized personnel can transport a marine mammal. A pup taken illegally from the beach to a wildlife facility, by law cannot be treated until approved by NOAA. While you may think you are saving a pup, instead you are gravely endangering him. Being removed from the beach, handled and put into a car can cause life threatening stress. Please don’t disturb resting seal pups. If you are concerned about the health of an animal or if there is harassment by people or dogs, call the NOAA hotline @ 800- 853-1964 or the Seal Sitters hotline @ 206-905-7325 (SEAL) and we will direct you to the proper standing network for response.

"Sentinels of the Sound" sculpture nears completion

At her studio on Whidbey Island, artist Georgia Gerber is putting the finishing touches on Seal Sitters’ commissioned bronze sculpture of a harbor seal mom and pup. Due for installation mid-late August, “Sentinels of the Sound” has been welded and burnished and only awaits a patina finish and a new home at Alki Beach. The natural rock setting near the Alki Bathhouse has already been completed by Turnstone Construction.

Join us for the dedication of the sculpture and educational event on “Harbor Seal Day”, Sunday, September 8th from 1-4pm. The artwork is the centerpiece of our Year of the Seal community outreach project.

Summer Fest draws new Seal Sitters ambassadors and volunteers

West Seattle’s Summer Fest drew huge crowds Friday and Saturday to the Alaska Junction and Seal Sitters had an educational outreach table smack dab in the middle of it. Volunteers spoke to over 330 children and adults. We’re happy to report that 32 kids (at last count) signed the Seal Ambassador Pledge to protect our waters and respect wildlife. If you’d like to take the pledge, too, and receive a certificate, click here!

Volunteers also talked to the public about the latest “Sentinels of the Sound” sculpture updates and “Harbor Seal Day” dedication and educational event to be held at the Alki Bathhouse on September 8th. The deadline for the art and essay contest for kids K-5 is August 15th. For more info and to download the contest rules, click here. Artwork and essays will be displayed at the Bathhouse during the event and participating kids will be honored - and there will be prizes for the winners, too!

Seal Sitters will have a booth at next weekend’s Alki Art Fair. Make sure to stop by. There will be a coloring table for kids to get those creative juices flowing as well as a sign-up sheet to join Spud’s Seal Ambassador Club and receive a certificate.

Seal pups sometimes seek rest on paddle boards and kayaks

Occasionally, a seal pup will flop up onto a passing paddle board or kayak to grab a snooze. Seal Sitters MMSN would like to remind people that the best thing to do if you find yourself in this situation is enjoy the moment - and, if you have time, let the pup rest. Do not leave the area with a pup on board. When you’d like to move on, give him or her a gentle nudge with your paddle to encourage a return to the water.

Last year, Seal Sitters’ hotline received a call from a kayaker near Elliott Bay’s Jack Block Park. Jeff Kelley reported that a seal pup had hopped onto the back of his craft and seemed content to rest there indefinitely. After 45 minutes, Jeff and his son needed to continue on their way and he wasn’t quite sure what to do. Our responder met him at the park’s shoreline but, even with nudging of the paddle, this snoozy pup had no intent of disembarking his fine haul out. Jeff began rocking the kayak back and forth and the hitchhiker reluctantly slid off and swam away.

Jeff did everything right. The pup, nicknamed Sealy Dan, got a much-needed respite from the cold waters and was not taken far away from his or her territory. And Jeff and his son, visiting from the East Coast, got a wonderful story to cherish.

If you’d like a copy of our “boater guidelines for marine mammals” poster for your kayak or paddleboard club or to post at your marina, please email us.

Seattle Mayor McGinn declares September 8 "Harbor Seal Day"

At the request of Seal Sitters MMSN, Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn has declared September 8th “Harbor Seal Day”. Included in the proclamation is the text:

WHEREAS, Harbor seals are critical to our marine environment because they do not migrate and are considered by biologists to be an indicator species of the health of our waters; and

WHEREAS, Seal Sitters Marine Mammal Stranding Network, the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods, the Seattle Department of Parks and Recreation, and the West Seattle community have joined together to place a seal mom and pup sculpture, “Sentinels of the Sound,” on Alki Beach; and

WHEREAS, the unveiling of this sculpture will raise public awareness of the need to “share the shore” with wildlife, protect marine mammals, and reduce pollution in our marine environment,

NOW, therefore, I Mike McGinn, Mayor of the City of Seattle, do hereby proclaim September 8, 2013 to be HARBOR SEAL DAY

View the full proclamation here. Thanks so much to the Mayor for helping to raise awareness about our fragile marine ecosystem! Please join us on “Harbor Seal Day” for our sculpture dedication and educational outreach event, Sunday September 8th from 1-4pm at the Alki Bathhouse site.

Call to kids to enter art and story contest

UPDATE: Deadline for entries has been extended to August 25th.

Seal Sitters, as part of our Year of the Seal project, is reaching out to children, encouraging them to become involved in protecting marine mammals and help keep our waters free of trash.

In celebration of the “Sentinels of the Sound” sculpture, we are sponsoring an art and story contest, open to all Seattle-area children grades K-5. We ask kids to imagine, through words and/or art media, the story of seal pup Spud (the name of our very first pup that came ashore in 2007), depicted in the sculpture with his mom (be on the lookout for the upcoming contest to name the mother seal). Ideas can include: Where did Spud and his mom travel from? What do they see swimming together? What adventures has Spud had along the way? Where does Spud sleep? Anything about seal pups that might spark a child’s imagination is perfect for this contest! Too young to write? While we look forward to seeing written entries in a kid’s handwriting, stories can be transcribed by an adult - we want everyone to be able to weave tales about Spud and his mom! For photos of the sculpture, click here.

Written stories will be judged by a panel of writers led by noted National Geographic author (and Seal Sitters co-founder) Brenda Peterson. The artwork will be judged by a panel of artists.

All entries will be displayed at our “Harbor Seal Day” celebration and dedication on Sunday, September 8th from 1-4pm at the Alki Bathhouse. Winners will be recognized at the event and prizes awarded. Selected entries will also be displayed on our websites.

Entries for the contest must be received by August 25th. Please read the size limitations and other rules here. Drop off locations for entries are Alki Mail and Dispatch, Alki Arts (Alki beach location) and NW Art and Frame (4733 California Ave Sw). Thanks so much to these generous businesses for participating! Entries can also be mailed to: Seal Sitters, 4701 SW Admiral Way #224, Seattle, 98116. Email us if you have any questions.

We look forward to seeing what creative visions our kids have!

Sentinels of the Sound sculpture cast and welded

Seal Sitters is excited to report that the Georgia Gerber commissioned sculpture has moved one step closer to completion at her studio on Whidbey Island. The bronze sections of the harbor seal mom and pup were welded together on Wednesday. The work will be installed in mid to late-August near the Alki Bathhouse.

A celebration event will be held on Sunday, September 8th, “Harbor Seal Day”, from 1-4pm with music, activities for children, environmental exhibitors and a ribbon cutting and short dedication ceremony. The “Sentinels of the Sound” sculpture is the centerpiece of Seal Sitters’ Year of the Seal educational project designed to raise awareness about our fragile marine ecosystem.

Georgia (left) and long-time studio assistant Virginia Keck pose with the sculpture after a long day of fitting and welding pieces into place. The next step in the time-consuming process is to fill the seams, do a final burnish and then apply a patina to the bronze. As Georgia says, the sculpture will develop its own unique finish over the years from all the love pats it will receive from the public.

Site preparation and fabrication by Turnstone Construction will begin early on Monday, July 8th, for approximately 7 - 10 days. Please check back for updates as the site begins to take shape.

Fourth of July no picnic for wildlife - stay away from seal haulouts

The Fourth of July and summer boating season is definitely no picnic for wildlife, particularly newborn seal pups. Fireworks and beach parties cause pups to be abandoned every year. This is a reminder that when you venture out to the beach, whether by trail or boat, please respect animals’ space and need for quiet.

Harbor seal haulouts are full of pregnant females and newborn pups in South Puget Sound and pups can be found all along the Washington coastline and inland waterways. Harbor seals also use jetties, breakwaters and log booms for haulouts. Please stay a minimum of 100 yards away.

Pups pay a terrible price for human disturbance. The pup shown here was found last year, starving on Cutt’s Island along with two other emaciated pups and several dead ones. All had been abandoned by their mothers because boaters disrupted the seal colony on this small island near Gig Harbor. A day of boating fun for people can be a death sentence for seal pups.

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 we documented a speeding boat intentionally flushing seals from a protected island rookery with a sign posted “closed harbor”. In the photo below, you can see the boat scaring hundreds of seals from the beach, including pregnant females and many newborn pups. 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 for seal pups 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. If you see a violation, please call NOAA Office for Law Enforcement: 1-800-853-1964.

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 in 2011, 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.

Please be aware of your surroundings and give animals a break this holiday. Respect that harbor seals need to rest and nurse. Celebrate responsibly and you just might save the life of a seal pup. Fireworks are a moment’s thrill that can have heartbreaking consequences.
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