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Curious pup delights volunteers and public

Our responder found seal pup Sly nestled on the seaweed covered rocks of Elliott Bay early this morning. For the third day in a row, this alert white pup with hints of gold fur has rested for many hours. Volunteers talked to occasional walkers on this blustery and, at times, torrentially wet day.

Late in the afternoon, Sly quite reluctantly returned to the water, but only when waves at high tide rushed repeatedly over him. Then, to the delight and surprise of volunteers and onlookers, Sly swam close-in along the shore towards the small group on the bank.
He lingered just a few feet offshore - staring curiously at us, as if analyzing these crazy humans who stood out in a downpour most of the day to keep him safe. This interaction was really quite unusual in our 4 years of stranding work; our lead investigator could only recall two other similar instances - one was seal pup Boo and the other, Abby the elephant seal, who swam over to her, blowing bubbles an arm’s length away offshore. We will be on the lookout for Sly tomorrow.

Abby the ellie's back in town

Abby, the female elephant seal who was molting on a private beach in early February, is back in West Seattle. Seal Sitters received a call this afternoon from a waterfront homeowner who immediately recognized the huge seal as an elephant seal. Our first responder checked to make sure the seal had no apparent injuries and taped off a perimeter.

Neighbors are keeping a watchful eye over her and spreading the word that dogs need to be on a leash. Volunteers will be monitoring her as necessary. Abby will likely be there for a number of days, tossing sand over her body.

UPDATE: 3/12 7am
Abby was not on the beach at daybreak this morning. There were, however, a number of huge paw prints where she had been hauled out. We hope that the off leash dog was there after she returned to the water.

Abby returns to the Salish Sea after stormy night

Concerns that last night’s high winds and surf would force Abby, the molting elephant seal, from her safe resting place on the private beach proved well-founded. Our volunteer arrived before dawn only to find Abby gone, but then was pleasantly surprised to see her relaxing and blowing bubbles just offshore. Abby spent the next hour and a half drifting leisurely in the calm water reflecting the pink and blue shades of dawn - a very mesmerizing and dreamlike sight. The water rinsing over her sore body, sand-caked eyes and nostrils must have felt a bit like heaven to her. In the video you can see the distinct pointed nose, characteristic of a female elephant seal. Abby drifted slowly southward and it appeared that she might be interested in hauling back out onto the beach, but suddenly there were no more bursts of bubbles and she was gone - most likely out to grab some breakfast after fasting on the beach for several days. Our volunteers scoured beaches throughout the day, but did not see her. We will be checking the same private beach before dawn in case she returns with the high tide. If you are a waterfront homeowner, please call our hotline if she shows up on your beach.

Abby the ellie still resting on private beach

Abby, the healthy elephant seal whom we have been observing since Thursday, spent another day molting on the beach. As the day wore on and the weather improved, more neighbors came down to see this rotund female (yes, it has been confirmed that she is a female) and learn about the molting process of seals. Very early this drizzly morning, Abby reacted to the incoming tide by showing what is typically a defense behavior - opening the mouth and extending the nose (see video). Perhaps she was just longing to return to the sea to wash off her aching body. Tonight’s wind storm should be a challenge for her, but we expect her to still be on the shore. Check back for an update tomorrow. Thanks to all the great beach residents who are being so respectful of Abby’s need for space.

Elephant seal seeks quiet beach to molt

Seal Sitter’s hotline received a call yesterday afternoon with a report of an elephant seal on a private stretch of beach in West Seattle. Mary, the reporting party and waterfront resident, was confident that it was indeed an ellie (as they are affectionately called) since there had been one on her beach for an extended time last year. Sure enough, our volunteer found the huge seal nestled among the logs and taped off a perimeter to warn residents and beach walkers of her presence. Photos and video were sent to WDFW’s marine mammal biologist who confirmed that the seal was molting and would most likely be on the beach for at least a week.

Molting is a process of shedding the skin and fur. Seals shed their fur each year and harbor seals molt shortly after the breeding season over a period of about 4 weeks. For the elephant seal, however, molting is a grueling endeavor. Every year they shed not only their fur, but also the first layer of skin in a matter of weeks. It is such an abrupt process, taking place in a very short length of time, that it is called a catastrophic molt. As you can imagine, it is terribly uncomfortable and painful. During that time, the seal typically remains on the beach and does not return to the water to forage until the molt is complete. The animal is generally pretty miserable and it is a disturbing sight to the public, but be assured that this seal is quite healthy and will soon have a beautiful, new svelte coat. This elephant seal has been nicknamed Abby. We are pretty sure the seal is female but have not completely verified that. If Abby turns out to be male, we will have to change the name to Fat Albert because this is one very, very rotund seal! Certainly there are no worries that this seal won’t have enough blubber to last through the fast. It is conceivable that this is the same female who chose this quiet spot to molt last year.

Unfortunately, like all too many West Seattle beaches, illegally off leash dogs are a real concern. Volunteers and residents intercepted a number of dogs who were headed straight for Abby. Unlike small seal pups who usually end up injured in this scenario, this elephant seal is several hundred pounds and not feeling well. It could easily end up that both the dog and Abby could get severely injured as she tries to defend herself. We want to ensure that Abby is able to rest as discreetly and safely as possible during her trying time. It is part of Seal Sitters’ role in the marine mammal stranding network to help keep both the animals and the public safe at all times.
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