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Captain sets sail for another port

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It appears that our adult harbor seal Captain has set sail for another location since she has not been sighted since Thanksgiving Day. Much to our dismay, on Thursday morning she exhibited symptoms of lung issues, confirming our gnawing suspicion that she might have some underlying health issues - since adult harbor seals won’t usually tolerate the presence of humans and she picked a busy, urban spot to rest. During a stretch of 23 days since first reported on November 3rd, Captain came ashore all but a handful of those.

We hope she has chosen a quieter stretch of beach to heal and gain strength. Seal Sitters thanks all our volunteers who protected Captain during wet, windy and cold weather, checking on her often as late as midnight each night. And huge thanks to local residents who were so caring and helped us keep her safe. Harbor seals think West Seattle rocks - and so do we! We’ll continue to be on the lookout for Captain.

Adult harbor seal has sex change

Thanks to better identification photos obtained yesterday, it has been confirmed that Captain, the adult seal who has been using a West Seattle beach for going on several weeks now and at first believed to be a male is, indeed, female! Captain showed up earlier than usual yesterday - in broad daylight - most likely due to riding out an intense storm the night before when she did not come ashore. She is shown here settled in on the beach for a long rest.

Since Captain has been hauling out either in near darkness or after dark, photos sent to a consulting marine mammal biologist last week for health assessment and evaluation were not terribly sharp - hence the error in gender identification.

It is very difficult to determine sex of harbor seals even with optimum photos since, unlike sea lions, male sexual organs are internal. Additionally, unlike many species, male harbor seals are not significantly larger or exhibit unique physical characteristics. Both Steller and California sea lion males are much larger and weigh hundreds more pounds than females. Male California sea lions develop a bump on their forehead, called a sagittal crest, which indicates sexual maturity (see photo at left taken this morning of a CA sea lion male in Elliott Bay).

Wind and rain can't dampen volunteers' spirits

The latest wave of hard rain and gusting winds can’t deter Seal Sitters volunteers from our mission of protecting marine mammals. Each day, rain or shine, we’re out looking for the adult harbor seal, dubbed the Captain, to ensure that when he comes ashore, he will not be disturbed. With the exception of a couple of nights, he has chosen the same beach to rest since November 3rd, when some students from UW called the hotline with a report. The three young women, out on a late evening stroll, had stopped to read one of our seal informational beach signs when they happened to look to the beach on their left. Lo and behold, a seal was resting there. One of the students immediately called the hotline number which she had just entered into her cell phone.

Soaked volunteers have been pounding stakes and stretching tape in torrential rain the past several evenings as a major storm has swept into South Puget Sound. Last evening and late into the night, dedicated volunteers checked the beach to see if the Captain had hauled out, but as of 11pm he had not. He may have decided to move on or chose to ride out the storm in the water, rather than be battered by wind and rain on shore. We will continue to monitor the area until we are sure he has abandoned this chosen haulout.

Late Saturday afternoon, Captain came ashore as darkness fell. A weak bit of light filtered through the rain clouds, enabling us to grab some video with a long lens and camera which was monitored remotely. We have had limited ability to get health assessment photos due to the fact that it is usually too dark by the time he hauls out. Captain is very alert to the noise of sidewalk passersby and busy street traffic and bus stop just above the small beach where he tries to rest. He does look thinner than we would like, but we have not observed any real health issues. Adult harbor seals can weigh up to 300 lbs., reaching lengths from 5-6 feet. Adult males are slightly larger than females. It has truly been a treat to protect this beautiful seal.

Adult seal finds safe haven on West Seattle beach

For 8 of the last 10 evenings, an adult harbor seal has been coming ashore to rest on a sandy West Seattle beach. Thankfully, there is only one point of access to the small beach which enables Seal Sitters to establish a secure perimeter around the seal, doing our best to ensure that he won’t be disturbed.

It’s unusual for us to have an adult seal on an urban beach, since they are extremely wary of people; most times, they will be seen on the platforms off shore. However, over the years, we have had several adult seals use the dock at Don Armeni boat launch, including Otis Redding (who rested on the dock for many days in a row while he healed from an ear and parasitic infection) and Heidi Klum, a gorgeous blond female. At night, the abandoned and inaccessible dock at Jack Block Park is heavily used by seals and, most likely, the more remote beaches around West Seattle are used then as well.

This large male has been nicknamed Captain and appears to be healthy, albeit a tad bit thin. We thank the neighbors in the high rise condos across the street who keep watch out their windows late at night, making sure the tape perimeter has not been breached. One night some teenagers crossed the tape, standing on the sea wall above the seal taking photos. An alert neighbor yelled out that they needed to get behind the perimeter. Captain has developed quite a passionate fan base over the past week or so. Protecting him has been a real treat for volunteers and the public.

Seal Sitters’ hotline received a call late this afternoon with a report of a dark little harbor seal pup who had come ashore several times on Alki Beach, only to get repeatedly spooked by people and return to the water. After the 4th attempt, and just before our responder arrived, he swam north and was not sighted again. While searching for the pup along the sea wall, we discovered that Captain had shown up a bit earlier than usual this evening and was already snoozing at his hangout. Volunteers David and Eilene quickly established a perimeter and talked to the curious crowd which had gathered.

11/13/12 am PUPDATE
Last night about 7pm, hotline guru Sharon answered a call from a Seattle Aquarium and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife team. They were at the seal’s location in hopes of securing a cage of mussels on the beach as part of a study of toxicity levels in Puget Sound. They noticed the tape perimeter and called the hotline to see if they could gain access. The team amicably agreed to use an alternate, but close location to secure the cage. We so appreciate their cooperation. While the seal appears to be healthy and, as an adult, not so vulnerable as a small pup, Seal Sitters’ concern is that if we do not continue to allow Captain to rest at this chosen haul out, he might well choose one that is dangerous to him or one we cannot monitor. Huge thanks to the toxicity research team!
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