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Dreary weather can't dampen Seal Sitters' mission

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Despite cool and breezy weather (including some much-needed rain yesterday afternoon), the Alki Art Fair was a resounding success for Seal Sitters, whose volunteers spoke with 691 people during the 2-day event on the busy beach promenade.

As ferries passed back and forth before a misty Olympic Mountain backdrop, passersby learned about the varied work of the marine mammal stranding networks and were cautioned that we are now in the throes of harbor seal pupping season.

Along with a fun seal coloring project, created by talented Seal Sitters’ artist Lynn Shimamoto (photo of future volunteers Sadie and Stella), a table loaded with outreach materials and seal pelts enticed passersby to linger, learn and chat with volunteers. Countless people stopped to poke their heads through our sea life “photo op” board, snapping photos on their smart phones.

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Thanks to all of our volunteers who did such a great job representing Seal Sitters and NOAA’s West Coast Marine Mammal Stranding Network.

Special thanks to Seal Sitters’ event gurus David and Eilene Hutchinson who put in massive hours, not only lining up volunteers for our table and to help out other exhibitors, but also for being on site the entire weekend.

For the third year in a row, Spud Fish and Chips, a West Seattle restaurant icon located at 2666 Alki Ave SW on Alki Beach, donated $1 to Seal Sitters MMSN for every cup of chowder purchased during the fair. The donations will be used for our marine mammal stranding and educational outreach activities. Huge thanks to the generosity of Spud Fish and Chips for this fund-raising opportunity - and to those of you who enjoyed a cup of delicious chowder and helped protect marine life.

Seal pup Little Dipper continues to improve in rehab

Seal pup Little Dipper, rescued almost a month ago after being abandoned by his mom at Lincoln Park, continues to do well at PAWS Wildlife Center in Lynnwood. Abandonment was most likely due to the presence of humans and dogs at the very busy urban park.

The pup is reluctantly eating whole fish at the facility. Little Dipper will be released back to the wild, once he has bulked up with some substantial fat reserves and the rehabbers are confident he can forage on his own, catching small fish and squid in the vast waters of Puget Sound.

Harbor seal pupping season is underway in South Puget Sound. If you see a seal on the beach, please stay back. Keep people and dogs well away and call the marine mammal stranding network for your area. In West Seattle, call Seal Sitters’ hotline at 206-905-SEAL (7325). For a map listing all of the stranding networks in Washington, click here.

Seal Sitters share the love at Summer Fest

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Seal Sitters, handing out seal stickers and marine debris coloring sheets to passing children, manned a table at the very popular West Seattle Summer Fest last weekend. Even with dreary and relatively chilly weather on Friday, volunteers sporting “Share the Shore” t-shirts were out in force. They educated approximately 188 people about harbor seal pupping season (now underway in our area), as well as the work of the marine mammal stranding network.

On a much hotter Sunday afternoon, an ice chest filled with cold bottles of water came in handy - not only for volunteers, but also for panting 4-legged friends, who eagerly slurped from the dog watering dish. Further down the street at the GreenLife Stage, Donna Sandstrom of The Whale Trail gave a talk. Orca Network also had a booth. Marine mammals were very well represented.

Thanks so much to the organizers of Summer Fest who provided tables for non-profits to do outreach at the event! Seal Sitters volunteers shared information with a total of 409 folks of all ages over the 2 days (7 hours) we had a presence. Thanks to our dedicated vols for spreading the blubber love.

Pint-sized scientist, age 7, has big warning about Salish Sea oil spill

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7-year old Alek, inspired by scientists and explorers like Sylvia Earle, has always been fascinated by the ocean. Learning about oil spill catastrophes, such as the Exxon Valdez in Alaska and the BP Deepwater Horizon spill, spurned him into environmental action. Last year, he dove into research about the devastating effects of oil spills on marine ecosystems and the environment. The end result was a science project on the effectiveness of booms in containment of spilled oil.

This year, Alek upped his game in a project requiring more than 400 hours. He just released two videos (one 53 minutes long, the other a condensed 17 minute overview) analyzing the events and consequences of a simulated major oil spill in the Salish Sea.

Visit citizen scientist Alek’s website to learn more about his study, view both videos and sign his petition. Kudos to Alek for this significant achievement and to the numerous consulting agencies who helped him with his science, including SeaDoc Society chief scientist Joe Gaydos. The Salish Sea is lucky to have young Alek as a passionate environmental steward.

Seal Sitters MMSN is very proud that we, too, have some pretty awesome kids who participate in our stranding activities on the beach, learning about marine mammals and the marine environment. Empowered with this knowledge about our fragile Salish Sea ecosystem, these young wildlife advocates promote stewardship in their schools and far beyond.

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

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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 from resting seals. Like all marine mammals, they are protected from harassment by the Marine Mammal Protection Act and Washington State law RCW 77.15.130 (a criminal misdemeanor, mandatory court appearance, punishable with up to 90 days in jail and up to $1000 fine).

Pups pay a terrible price for human disturbance. The pup shown above was found in 2012, starving on Cutts 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. During boating season, thousands of boats can be moored offshore at Cutts disrupting this historic harbor seal haulout (called a “rookery” during pupping season). This past weekend, Boy Scout Troop 1519 along with WDFW staff posted warning signs on Cutts and surrounding beaches that seals are protected by Federal law and to stay back.

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.

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It is not a laughing matter to harass seals. It is a matter of life and death for seal pups. 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. This Federal law also prohibits touching, moving and feeding seal pups.

Many state parks on islands in the San Juans, Central and South Puget Sound have harbor seal rookeries. Do not approach animals by boat or by land. Please, be respectful and move your party elsewhere. If you see a violation, please call NOAA Office for Law Enforcement: 1-800-853-1964 and your local stranding network.

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 immediately 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 for wildlife.

West Seattle seal pup doing swimmingly in rehab

Little Dipper, the newborn seal pup rescued Friday from a Lincoln Park beach, is doing pretty well according to PAWS Wildlife Center rehabilitation manager Emily Meredith. The pup’s wounds, including two punctures on the head from an undetermined animal, are healing thanks to antibiotics. Little Dipper is being tube-fed “seal formula.” While formula is never as good as a mom’s milk with her natural antibodies, he has gained almost a full kilogram in weight under PAWS’ care. Little Dipper has been enjoying his big outdoor pool.

The abandoned pup was protected by Seal Sitters volunteers on Thursday and Friday. See photos and read about Little Dipper’s treatment at PAWS on their blog here. We can’t thank PAWS dedicated staff enough for giving this pup a second chance.
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