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Abandoned newborn seal pup rescued from Lincoln Park

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A newborn, full-term harbor seal pup, abandoned at busy Lincoln Park, was taken by Seal Sitters’ NOAA-authorized responders to PAWS Wildlife Center for a health assessment late Friday afternoon.

The pup was first sighted on the beach by Colman Pool early Thursday morning, but was not immediately reported to Seal Sitters. When we received a report hours later, First Responder Lynn arrived at the Park and saw four off-leash dogs on the beach. According to the woman who called the hotline, the pup was scared into the water by approaching people. The pup was swimming around in the water, desperately trying to crawl up onto a cement pillar just offshore. Thankfully, he returned to the beach shortly thereafter and Lynn established a large tape perimeter. She knew that any pup on the beach in South Puget Sound in late June/early July is a newborn and would still be nursing.

Under an unrelentingly hot sun, the very tiny pup was watched over by volunteers in shifts. Due to close proximity to the sidewalk and public pool, visitors to the park were asked to take a short detour around the pool building. This was all in hopes that mom might return to feed the thin pup. Except for a few peeved people, everyone was extremely cooperative, especially when they realized the urgent situation for the pup. However, with a park full of activity, including people along the water’s edge north and south of the perimeter, and the excited voices of children swimming in the nearby public pool, the scenario of mom’s return was extremely dubious. The pup entered the water several times during the day, probably taking a dip to cool down, sometimes calling plaintively to be fed. At 10pm when darkness fell, there was still no sign of mom swimming anywhere nearby.

On Friday morning, the pup was discovered onshore just south of the point where the pool is located. First Responders David and Eilene set a generous perimeter and volunteers were lined up for yet another terribly hot and busy day at the Park. The pup, nicknamed Little Dipper, was markedly thinner and much less alert than the previous day. Health assessment photos taken with a long telephoto definitively showed the the pup’s jutting hip and shoulder bones. It was now clear that the pup was emaciated and not being fed.

Not every struggling seal pup is a candidate for the very few spaces available at our Northwest rehabilitation facilities. Each pup is evaluated on a case by case basis for candidacy since the harbor seal population is considered to be at healthy levels and there is a 50% mortality in the wild for pups in their first year. It is NOAA’s policy that spaces are generally reserved for cases of human interaction, including pups with serious injuries. A seal pup that ends up in rehab will usually be at a facility for two or more months.Read here about NOAA’s rehabilitation policy for full-term pups.

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Due to the highly trafficked public location, dangers from off-leash dogs and human interaction, brutal heatwave and large crowds (and many children) expected for the next several days, Lead Investigator Robin made the decision to rescue the deemed abandoned pup from the beach and take him for evaluation by PAWS’ veterinarians.

Since the pup was just feet from the incoming tide, a salmon landing net on the end of a pole was gently placed over the pup to prevent his escape. Much to our surprise (and not shown in photos), Little Dipper had a fleshy umbilical cord dangling from his sunken belly and estimated to be 3-5 days old.

Interestingly, on Wednesday evening Seal Sitters’ hotline received a report that a pup with umbilicus attached had followed a man in his watercraft off Emma Schmitz Park. We are assuming this was Little Dipper.

On arrival at PAWS, the male pup weighed a mere 8.4 kg and veterinarians confirmed the pup was emaciated and had not eaten in days. Little Dipper had two puncture/bite wounds about 1/2” deep on the head and a laceration near the tail. The wounds do not appear to be serious and are being treated with antibiotics.

On Saturday, PAWS staff reported that Little Dipper was much more vibrant after being hydrated and stabilized. The prognosis is now good for his survival, assuming there are no underlying health issues.

Thanks to all of the many volunteers - including a number of our brand-new volunteers from the June training - who helped out over the two days Little Dipper was on shore. Dealing with large crowds of people can be a challenge and everyone performed fantastically. Seal Sitters would also like to give special thanks to Seattle Parks’ staff Carol, Charles, Dino and Kyle who provided assistance on Friday. We so value our great relationship with the Southwest Division.

Stay posted for health updates on Little Dipper from the dedicated rehab folks at PAWS!

PUPDATE (7/3/15)
Little Dipper is doing pretty well according to PAWS Wildlife Center rehabilitation manager Emily Meredith. The pup’s wounds, including the 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.

See recent 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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