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Two seal pups and outreach keep volunteers busy

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Yesterday morning, on her way to lend a hand with set up of Seal Sitters’ booth at the Summer Parkways event on Alki, our first responder instead made a priority detour towards the Fauntleroy ferry, responding to a report from the hotline of a seal on the beach.

Upon her arrival, she saw a thin pup at the base of the ferry dock pilings and three off-leash dogs playing in the surf a couple hundred yards away. Briskly, she began stretching yellow tape between driftwood and stakes, with signs warning that harbor seals need rest to survive and “Do Not Enter”. Thankfully, the dogs’ owners did not approach.

Volunteers arrived to help out and, over the course of the next hour and a half, passersby and neighbors were excited to be able to see the fuzzy gray pup who snoozed in the shadows. This included two great young girls who watched through binoculars with their mom. They christened the pup Cooper.

As the tide crept in and reached the sleeping pup, Cooper reluctantly swam off in the cold waters of the cove, where another pup had been seen off and on lingering offshore. We hope they went off in search of a nutritious Sunday brunch of squid, threespine stickleback and gunnel.

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Late in the day, the hotline rang again: this time, a pup was sleeping on the public boat ramp at Don Armeni Park. Our responder was on the scene within minutes and, sure enough, a pup was zonked out on the crushed shell and sand part of one cement lane. Someone had kindly put three cones at the top of the ramp to warn the public not to enter and a handful of people were quietly watching from a distance.

Again, signboards and cones with stakes were placed strategically around the area and yellow tape was strung to establish a safety zone. Other volunteers arrived shortly and began talking to curious and excited observers. A spotting scope was set up so folks could get a closer look at the pup, who dozed comfortably. Thru the scope, it was noticed that the pup had a wound on his/her rear flipper.

Only a couple of boats launched and retrieved while the pup slept. The owners were more than happy to use the opposite dock to come and go. Thank you, boaters!

The onlookers were quite respectful and quiet - a good thing since harbor seals have excellent hearing. The sudden noise of the hand dryer in the nearby public bathroom disrupted the slumber. Roaring motorcycles and increasing traffic on Harbor Avenue startled the pup, who began stretching and yawning - often an indication that a pup will start a return to the water.

Soon after, Skipper (nicknamed by new volunteer Heather) began the trek to the tideline. Because of the open wound on his/her flipper, the rear end was high in the air the length of the journey (photo above). Salt water has great healing properties and there is an excellent chance the wound will heal on its own. Skipper disappeared into Elliott Bay’s silvery waters search of dinner.

Volunteers waited to make sure Skipper didn’t return before removing materials and heading home for our own dinners. Be assured, Seal Sitters will be keeping a close eye on Skipper if the pup returns to our shores to rest.

Should you see either pup - or any others - on shore, please make sure to call Seal Sitters’ dedicated hotline at 206-905 SEAL (7325).

Seal Sitters talks to over 300 at Summer Parkways

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Great weather brought out scores of people to enjoy the City of Seattle’s Summer Parkways event at Alki Beach on Sunday. Seal Sitters staffed a booth which featured educational materials, including seal pelts and skull. People who stopped by to talk with volunteers were fascinated to examine baleen from both a gray and fin whale. They learned that harbor seal pupping season is in full swing in South and Central Puget Sound.

Volunteers Lynn and Diana sketched marine mammal drawings in chalk on the street. The life-size outline of a 39-foot humpback whale (the size of the juvenile that stranded recently in West Seattle) drew lots attention and questions. At an art table beside the booth, children doodled bright crayons on coloring sheets with marine mammal themes.

Throughout the course of the day, Seal Sitters talked to 305 adults and children - a job well done to spread education about marine mammals, the health of our marine ecosystem and the work of the West Coast Marine Mammal Stranding Network, of which Seal Sitters MMSN is a partner. Thanks to the many volunteers who spent the day making our outreach possible.

Banners go up along Alki as a reminder to Share the Shore

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As you drive, walk, skate or bike along Alki Avenue, you can’t help but notice Seal Sitters’ festive and educational “Share the Shore” banners hanging from street poles. Seal Sitters initiated the project as part of a Department of Neighborhoods grant for educational outreach in the West Seattle community in 2011.

The 10 banners, featuring a graphic illustration of a harbor seal pup, are displayed annually along the popular stretch of sandy Alki Beach - often 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.

In such an urban environment, it is a challenge for SSMMSN volunteers to keep them safe from harassment and harm.
The message “Share the Shore” is to reinforce that wildlife needs to - and is entitled to - use shoreline for resting and foraging. We should always allow them the sufficient space to do so, as it is critical in their struggle to survive.

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Seattle Parks and Recreation employee, James Lohman, is shown installing the street banners, which serve to remind residents and visitors that we are in the midst of pupping season in our area. September and October are typically our busiest response months in South and Central Puget Sound, as pups strike out on their own from area rookeries.

The banner artwork is by New York illustrator Nancy Stahl, based on a photograph of seal pup Shanti by SSMMSN Lead Investigator Robin Lindsey.

If you do come across a resting seal or sea lion on shore or have other marine mammal concerns, please contact Seal Sitters’ hotline at 206-905-SEAL (7325) with as much detailed information as you can provide. Until we can get a responder on the scene, please ask that people stay far back and leash and remove any dogs from the beach.

Download NOAA’s new Share the Shore handout here, with guidelines and species identification.

Seal pup action finally heats up this week

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Things finally began to heat up this week for seal pup responses to kick off what is usually Seal Sitters’ busiest time of year, harbor seal pupping season.

Late Friday afternoon, the 2nd, Seal Sitters First Responders David and Eilene were enjoying the drop-dead view of Seattle’s city skyline from Jack Block Park. A couple noticed their cameras and mentioned they had just seen a harbor seal pup crawl up on the beach.

Within minutes, the beach near the pup was closed off to public access with yellow “Protected Marine Mammal” tape. The Sikh couple was asked if they would like to name the pup. They chose Hargobind, a Sikh name that means “a part of God” or “God sustains” and hoped the pup would fare well.

Brand new volunteers Eka and her two young daughters were thrilled to be called to duty to help protect their first pup, sleeping so close to the sidewalk that runs along the beach. Volunteer Ashely came down, too, to talk to passersby. Hargobind was still snoozing on the pebbled beach as darkness fell and the park was closed for the night.

First Responder Robin checked for signs of the pup when the park reopened at 6:30am, but the beach was empty.

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On Wednesday, the 7th, First Responder Lynn received a disturbing call from Seal Sitters’ hotline, that a seal pup “missing an eye” was on a beach bordering Lincoln Park. Bracing herself for something horrible, she threw the kennel and capture net in her car in case a rescue was necessary.

She was met onsite by FR David and they were both relieved to find that the pup indeed had both eyes intact. Apparently, the reporting party must have walked up to the pup who was sleeping on his/her side and mistook the ear hole for an eye socket. Harbor seals have no ear flaps and often the public reports “shot” seals, mistaking the ear hole for bullet wounds.

Volunteers were quickly lined up to help out on the beach, including two new young volunteers Thuy and Thuc. Thuc’s little sister Lily named the pup Fly as she peered through the spotting scope that had been set up to allow a closeup view.

Wet sprinkles turned into showers which then turned into rain. As people began to leave the park, there were only a few souls left who stopped to check out the little pup. Fly snoozed until almost 5 and then made the long scoot to the water’s edge and slipped off into Puget Sound.
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