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Seal pupping season now underway on Washington's outer coast

Harbor seal pups are now being born along the coast of Washington. Please be alert as you visit coastal beaches and stay back from seals, especially seal pups - 100 yards is recommended by NOAA. Interference can cause abandonment and certain death.

Seal Sitters has also received a report of a live lanugo birth in a South Puget Sound island rookery. Inside the womb, pups have a wavy white coat known as lanugo. For a full-term pup, this long fur is shed before birth. If a pup is born prematurely (with a partial or full lanugo coat), his muscles and lungs will not be fully developed and survival rate is extremely low. The amount of lanugo fur indicates the stage of prematurity.

The photo shown here is of lanugo pup Luigi, born last June on West Seattle’s Alki Beach. A man with a dog was on the beach next to the pup when Seal Sitters first responders arrived. After convincing him he was jeopardizing the survival of the pup, responders cleared the beach and established an extensive tape perimeter, restricting access to the area in hopes that the pup’s mom might return. She was not seen again. A full month premature and weighing only 5.5 kg, she had to be humanely euthanized after 2 days.

At the South Puget Sound rookery on Saturday, WDFW’s marine mammal biologist reports that a boat full of people illegally breached the closed harbor, speeding toward the seal colony where this latest lanugo pup had just been born. The frantic seals were scared from the haulout, leaving the premature pup alone. It is assumed the pup died due to abandonment. Photos of the boat with license number and occupants have been sent to NOAA’s Office for Law Enforcement (OLE) for investigation. If you witness harassment of seals or other marine mammals, a violation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act, please call the OLE Hotline at 1-800-853-1964.

PLEASE, stay back from harbor seal haulouts, where seals gather in numbers - especially during pupping season, now through the end of October in Washington State! It is truly a matter of life and death for seal pups. Observe quietly from a distance. For a map showing pupping timeframes in various parts of the state, click here.

Learn about marine life at Flipper Fest - and win cool prizes!

Pinnipeds, cetaceans and invertebrates - oh, my! Flipper Fest is coming up soon - May 31st, just three weeks away. Make sure to stop by the Alki Bathhouse from 1-5pm and learn from the experts about the marine mammals of Washington - from tiny harbor seal pups (a “pinniped” species) to giant humpback whales (a “cetacean” species).

Did you know that a record number of humpback and gray whales - at least 30 - were entangled in fishing gear last year, mostly crab pots? As of April, at least 25 entanglements had been reported off California alone for 2015, on a tragic record-setting pace. The line securing crab traps to buoys cuts deep into a whale’s flesh, causing serious injury or death.

At Flipper Fest, you’ll learn from Northwest Straits how to secure your crab pot to lessen drifting, derelict pots that endanger whales and often entrap and kill other sea life. It’s just one of the many ways we can keep our waters safer for those who call Puget Sound home. Visit the “Marine Debris and Pollution” exhibits at Flipper Fest to find out how you can help. At the “Cetacean Station” exhibits, you can talk to Cascadia Research about their first-hand, dangerous - and often, lifesaving - whale disentanglements over the past years. Read about a challenging May 2010 disentanglement of a humpback by Cascadia’s team off the Washington coast (photo above). For the story and video of another whale disentanglement off the California coast last year, click here.

Crunch. “Oops!” Find out why you need to be extra careful exploring the beach rocks at low tide. It’s so you don’t destroy habitat for “invertebrates” like sea snails, sea stars and hermit crabs - or scrunch them or their young. Seattle Aquarium Beach Naturalists will be at the event all afternoon to answer your questions about this fascinating miniature world. You’ll leave knowing why it’s never a good idea to pick up or relocate these extraordinary critters.

Local businesses have donated some fantastic raffle prizes - everything from food to kayaking to area attractions. Whale-sized thanks for their generosity! Tickets are $1 and will benefit Seal Sitters’ educational outreach and marine mammal stranding work. Drawings will be held at 2:30, 3:30 and 4:30 (you need not be present to win). There will be a free prize drawing for kids attending Flipper Fest, with a chance to win a “Share the Shore” t-shirt, seal boogie board or ocean backpack.

Alki Kayak and M2S – Sunset Kayak Tour for 2 people
Alki Spud Fish and Chips - $50 gift card
Baked. - $30 certificate for custom cake
Bakery Nouveau – certificate for 8” Triple Layer Chocolate Cake
Barnes & Noble - $25 gift card
Costco - $50 gift card
Cupcake Royale – 12 cupcake certificates
EMP Museum – 4 admission passes (2 winners of 2 passes each)
Joe Gaydos – autographed copy of The Salish Sea book
M2S (Mountain to Sound) – Ski or Snowboard weekend rental
Marination Ma Kai – (four) $10 gift cards
McLendon Hardware - $25 gift card
Northwest Art & Frame - $50 gift card
Pacific Science Center – Family Pass for 4, including IMAX
Pegasus Books - (2) $25 certificates (2 winners of 1 each)
Salty’s on Alki – 2 brunch certificates
Seattle Aquarium – 4 Guest Passes
Seattle Sounders FC – autographed mini soccer ball
Stuffed Cakes - $20 gift certificate
Wild Birds Unlimited in Burien - $25 gift card
Woodland Park Zoo – Family Fun Pack passes

Harbor seal joins protest against Shell and Arctic drilling

Hundreds of activists assembled a flotilla of kayaks, canoes, paddleboards and boats on Seattle’s Elliott Bay yesterday to protest Royal Dutch Shell’s plans to drill in the Arctic Ocean, one of the few remaining pristine habitats for marine life. Many hoisted signs as they gathered in front of an ominous 307 foot tall oil drilling rig, bound for Alaskan waters. The platform arrived amid political controversy at the Port of Seattle’s Terminal 5 on Thursday.

The only levity on this somber occasion was the appearance of a young harbor seal who hauled out to rest on a protester’s kayak (photo courtesy Alex Garland). It is more than appropriate that this tiny seal represented the many marine mammals - polar bears, whales (including endangered fin, humpback and bowhead), walruses, and seals (ribbon, bearded, ringed and spotted) - as well as birds and other sea life that are at risk if the critical habitat of the Chukchi Sea is opened for oil exploration and potential environmental catastrophe. Read NRDC’s take on the Department of the Interior’s admission that there is a 75% chance of a major spill if there is drilling in these remote, challenging waters.

To see more of photojournalist Alex Garland’s images of the day, click here. For more information on the demonstration, read the Seattle PI story.

Thanks to everyone who took a stand yesterday and emphatically voiced their opposition, “Shell No.” The harbor seal is believed to be the same one Seal Sitters has observed in the waters near Jack Block Park recently.

Mark your May calendar for Seal Sitters' Flipper Fest

     flipper fest sm poster
Seal Sitters is excited to announce “Flipper Fest”, a free educational outreach event celebrating the marine life of Puget Sound and the people who do the work to protect it, will be held on Sunday, May 31st, at the Alki Bathhouse. Come learn about the many marine mammals of Puget Sound, large and small!

Representatives from area marine mammal stranding networks, marine biologists, whale researchers and educators will share their knowledge and materials. There will be lots of hands-on exhibits, including skulls and pelts to examine - even an underwater robot used for videos. Environmental groups who focus on marine debris and pollution will show ways you can help save marine life, the easiest of which is by reducing waste and picking up litter!

There will be opportunities for kids to create marine-themed art. Inspired by the large-scale bottle cap works by artist Denise Hughes (visit her website here), Seal Sitters volunteers have been collecting plastic caps which will be used to create interactive artwork at the event.

Included in Flipper Fest activities will be raffle drawings throughout the afternoon with an opportunity to win some pretty awesome prizes. Tickets are $1 and proceeds benefit Seal Sitters’ stranding and educational outreach activities. For a complete list of prizes generously donated by local businesses, click here. There will be a special free drawing for kids (for an opportunity to win a “Share the Shore” t-shirt, seal boogie board or ocean backpack) and a face painter will be on-site.

Weather permitting, a life-size inflatable orca (approximately 20’ long by 12’ high) will provide a great photo op - and impress you with the scale and beauty of our local pods.

MARINE MAMMAL STRANDING NETWORKS respond to all marine mammals, but will have a pinniped (seals, sea lions) focus for this event:
Seal Sitters MMSN
NOAA West Coast MMSN
Sno-King Marine Mammal Response
WA Department of Fish and Wildlife - Marine Mammal Investigations, a leading researcher of emerging diseases in marine mammals who provides necropsy and response for NOAA MMSN.
PAWS Wildlife Center, seal rehabilitation partner of NOAA MMSN.

CETACEANS (whales, dolphins, porpoises):
Cascadia Research Collective performs research to protect marine mammals, with a focus on cetaceans.
American Cetacean Society, Puget Sound Chapter with a special focus on local orcas and environment.
NOAA Protected Resources works to conserve, protect and recover species of marine mammals and sea life.
The Whale Trail inspires stewardship of whales and environment by providing a network of viewing sites.

Puget Soundkeeper Alliance actively patrols and monitors the health of Puget Sound.
NW Straits Foundation/Derelict Fishing Gear Program will demonstrate how to secure crab pots to keep from endangering marine mammals.
Tox-ick is dedicated to preventing stormwater and polluted runoff through stunning video documentation.

Seattle Aquarium Beach Naturalists will help you identify the tiniest of beach critters, so you can enjoy the beach without harming them!

Sunday, May 31st from 1-5pm
Alki Bathhouse, 2701 Alki Ave SW, Seattle (
map it)

Mark your calendars for Flipper Fest and bring your friends!

Happy Mother's Day to all species

Seal Sitters sends out warm flipper hugs to those most special souls - mothers! Happy Mother’s Day to our human moms - thanks for all your nurturing, guidance and support.

This day is a reminder, too, that spring is the time for birthing of many wildlife species. Seals and sea lions are now being born along the Pacific coastline. Share the Shore - stay back and do not disturb! To view a map which show the pupping season timeline in Oregon and Washington, click here.

Harbor seal moms form affectionate bonds with their pups. Immediately after birth (see birth photos here), a mom must memorize the scent and call of her newborn so she can locate the pup if they are separated. Pups weigh between 18-30 lbs when born. Mom will nurse her pup for 4-6 weeks and then the chubby pup is on his own - now gaunt from nourishing her pup, she needs to replenish her own fat stores. During that short time, she must teach her pup all the skills to survive against daunting odds - only 50% of pups survive the first year.

Pups can swim within minutes of birth (hours-old pup shown swimming with mom in photos). A 2-day-old pup can stay underwater for 2 minutes. Like small human children, they will rest on mom’s back when tired and hitch a ride. Most times, the pup accompanies mom on foraging trips to learn how to hunt. He will learn that patience pays off when foraging. SeaDoc Society studied the differing foraging patterns of wild weaned seal pups versus rehabilitated pups who had no mom to teach them life lessons. The scientists found that rehab pups travelled much further in search of food, wasting essential calories.

Sometimes, a mom will leave her pup, who may not be strong enough to forage for hours, alone to rest on shore. She returns later to nourish her hungry pup. Always stay back from a resting pup. Otherwise, the mom may abandon her young due to human interference.

And finally, a “shout-out” to our Seal Sitters volunteers who are moms. These great women teach their children that respect for wildlife and concern for the health of our waterways is an empowering lesson to be learned and shared with others. We cannot thank you enough.
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