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Pieces come together for Year of the Seal educational project

The commissioned Georgia Gerber sculpture of a harbor seal mom and pup reached an important milestone recently - liquid bronze was poured into more than a dozen molds that will make up the life-size piece to reside at Alki Beach.

The lost wax process that has been used by sculptors for thousands of years (the oldest sample is dated 5, 000 years ago from India) is a complex and time intensive endeavor. Shown here is the face of the seal pup after it had been removed from its plaster cast, pressure washed and edges burnished by a studio assistant. The many pieces are to be assembled and welded together next week and will replicate the original clay forms created by the artist. We will be posting updates as each step is completed.

Turnstone Construction (renowned for exhibits in many zoos and facilities, including the Woodland Park Zoo penguin exhibit) will be fabricating a natural rock formation at the sculpture site next to the Bathhouse. Seal Sitters is thrilled that artists of the stature of both Georgia and Turnstone are participating in this project. And, of course, without the support of the West Seattle community, Department of Neighborhoods and Seattle Parks our Year of the Seal: Sentinels of the Sound educational outreach project could not have been realized. The sculpture will be dedicated at Seal Sitters’ Harbor Seal Day event on September 8th.

New volunteer training scheduled for July 24th

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. 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 (like Christine, Nina and Connie at right) 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. A followup on-the-beach session may be scheduled, time permitting before the height of the season.

There will be no training sessions during the height of pupping season (late summer - fall), due to time constraints on volunteers. However, there will be another training opportunity late fall/winter if you cannot attend this date. For additional questions and info or to be placed on a contact list for future training opportunities, please email us.

When: Wednesday, July 24, 2013
Time: 6:30pm-8:30pm
Where: Alki Congregational United Church, 6115 SW Hinds St (map it)
Training has reached capacity (we are looking for a larger room). Please email us if you’d like to be added to a list if space becomes available or for a future training.

Dead fin whale comes ashore on Washington coast

Yesterday, a team of biologists from Cascadia Research and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Marine Mammal Investigations Unit examined a 68-foot fin whale that washed ashore at an Ocean City beach.

The adult male whale was moderately decomposed with most of the skin missing. The lower jaw of a fin whale has an asymmetrical coloration of the baleen (black on the left side and creamy white on the right side), a physical characteristic of this species which aided in the identification of the whale. There was significant bruising and evidence of blunt force trauma consistent with a ship strike.

Fin whales, an endangered species, are the second largest animal in the world - second only to the blue whale. Calves measure 14-20 feet at birth and weigh approximately two tons. It is estimated that an adult fin whale weighs one ton per foot in length. They are very fast swimmers, but were not able to outrun modern whaling vessels which hunted them to near extinction. Numbers have increased since protection by the International Whaling Commission was enacted in 1966.

Dangers still exist for fin whales, however, as ships move through krill feeding grounds where the whales forage near the surface - easy victims for ship strikes. This is the second fin whale to wash ashore this year on Washington beaches, both attributed to ship strikes.

Responses such as the one yesterday by members of NOAA’s Northwest Marine Mammal Stranding Network rely on critical funds from the John H. Prescott Marine Mammal Rescue Assistance Grant. Recently Prescott funding was slashed from $4 million (for the entire nation) to a mere $1.4 million. Additionally, it has been eliminated completely from the proposed 2014 Federal Budget. These grants fund the scientific research necessary to monitor the health of our marine ecosystem and ensure timely response by groups all across the US to protect both marine mammals and the public. Read more about this essential program and how to contact your congressional representatives to restore Prescott funds.

Be on the alert for newborn: pupping season has begun in area

It is official: harbor seal pupping season is now underway in the inside waters of South Puget Sound. A lanugo pup was reported in the Gig Harbor area, but sadly had to be euthanized today. The long, wavy white lanugo coat is usually shed in the womb and indicates a premature birth. It is not known whether the presence of so many people around this pup caused abandonment by the mom or if there was another cause. Please remember to STAY AWAY from any pup resting on shore, keep dogs leashed at all times on or near the beach and call the stranding network for the area. Click the links for a map of stranding networks in the Pacific Northwest: Washington map | Oregon map

Yesterday afternoon Seal Sitters responded to a report from a kayaker of a woman harassing a seal at Constellation Park. He warned the woman, who was trying to force the seal back into the water, to stop and get back. Our responder was on the scene within minutes, finding an adult seal alone at the water’s edge. It was obvious that the seal had serious health issues. Shortly after consulting by phone with WA Department of Fish and Wildlife’s marine mammal biologist, the female seal died. Volunteers carried the 125 lb body across the long stretch of beach up into the woody debris. Since the biologist would not be able to pick the animal up for necropsy until this morning, the seal was packed in ice and volunteers built a small shelter of wood to keep the blistering sun at bay.

The seal was picked up this morning and taken for necropsy by WDFW. This evening we received the sad news from biologist Dyanna Lambourn that the small female, estimated to be around 4-6 years old, was postpartum, having given birth about two days ago. The cause of death was undetermined, however, she had an infected uterus. Sterile brain tissue samples were sent to Washington DC for tests.

It is conceivable the female gave birth somewhere in West Seattle or nearby. We are asking all waterfront property owners and those who walk along the beach to please be on the alert for a newborn pup. A pup can live for about a week and a half without nourishment from the mother. Call Seal Sitters hotline @ 206-905-7325 (SEAL) immediately if you see any marine mammal, dead or alive, on shore.

We still have a number of last year’s pups, now close to a year old and called yearlings, using Lincoln Park and the Alki platforms (including one very chubby one at Constellation Park on Sunday), so a pup you see may not necessarily be a newborn or recently weaned pup from this 2013 season. Please, however, call us asap regarding any pups you see on the beach, staying well back to avoid stressing out the animal or scaring him back into the water.

NOTE: We heard reports (unfortunately too late) of a mom and pup at Lincoln Park on Sunday. If you were one of the many folks who were taking photos, please email us so we can verify if it was truly a mother with a newborn pup and, if so, to identify them.
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