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Sad and unexpected outcome for Beach Drive seal pup

Seal Sitters volunteers are still reeling from an unexpected turn of events at Emma Schmitz Park yesterday. Late Saturday afternoon, just before high tide, a seal pup came ashore at the park’s small pocket beach located below Beach Drive - a beach notorious (as are too many in West Seattle) for illegally off-leash dogs.

Upon arrival, our first responder thanked the reporting party who called the hotline and had even posted some handmade signs warning people that a seal pup was resting there. The next order of business was to cordon off access to a small section of the sidewalk that runs along the seawall and opens onto the beach. With only a few feet of beach to rest upon, the tired pup snuggled right up against the cement entryway - barely visible.

The dark-coated pup was thin, but alert and stretched and yawned in typical seal pup fashion. Then, the pup zonked out for a snooze. Over the next 5-plus hours on this beautiful evening, there were many people out and about - walkers, bikers, paddleboarders - all of them thrilled to learn about the tiny, exotic visitor who would occasionally peer up, curious about the strange and excited 2-legged creatures on the sidewalk high above him.

Late in the evening, after darkness fell and the crowds dispersed, our volunteers reluctantly left for home. The pup, nicknamed H2Otis, was sleeping peacefully on the now expansive beach and we hoped he’d be safe throughout the night.

At 5:30am, Seal Sitters’ first responder was back to check on the pup. H2Otis was sound asleep - that is, until the noise of the early morning garbage truck caused him to stir and look about. A quick yawn and he was back asleep, still nestled against the wall.

It’s not unusual for a seal pup, particularly a thinner one, to spend many hours on shore before returning to the water. And so, H2Otis spent the entire morning there. We had no reason for particular concern for his health - other than needing to pack on some pounds - because he exhibited no symptoms of distress. Around noon, he made a decisive move toward the Sound and we were relieved that he was returning to forage. A pup coming and going from the water is a good sign.

However, after resting for some time halfway to the water’s edge, he started his trek again, but began having seizures. We realized something was horribly wrong. Plans were quickly put into place for a rescue. A call was placed to PAWS Wildlife Center in Lynnwood to make sure they could accept him for treatment. First responders examined the pup, but he was largely unresponsive. PAWS recommended we bring him in for humane euthanasia (if necessary). There was very little hope he could survive, but we did not want him to suffer, potentially for hours, in the hot sun on the beach.

Sadly, H2Otis died en route to the rehab facility. PAWS’ initial exam revealed that H2Otis had multiple small puncture wounds - animal bites - to the head, tongue and rear flipper. These wounds were not visible Saturday evening or Sunday morning because of his dark brown coat and lack of blood, but faint indications of punctures can be seen upon closer examination of photos taken in poor and contrasty light on Saturday. His positioning against the wall made health assessment photos difficult to obtain. So, it appears that he was not attacked Saturday night.

PAWS will perform a necropsy on the male pup to try to determine what species of animal attacked him. It will also help to establish if the wounds were the cause of death or if there were other underlying health issues that were asymptomatic. Thanks so much to PAWS’ staff for offering to necropsy the pup.

We are just heartbroken and stunned by this unforeseen outcome. Seal Sitters volunteers and a respectful public can take solace in the fact that we gave H2Otis peace from harassment and disturbance these last hours of his life. This was our privilege and gift to him. He, in turn, gave us a gift that cannot be put into words.

This is a reminder to everyone that each day is a struggle to survive for harbor seal pups, who have a 50% mortality their first year. Always keep your dog leashed near the beach - even the most well-behaved dog can be unpredictable and dangerous to seals. Please Share the Shore - stay back if you see a pup on the beach and call Seal Sitters MMSN @ 206-905-SEAL (7325).

We will update with results of the necropsy findings as soon as they become available.
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