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Weather cools down, but seal pup activity heats up

Just as fall weather has turned very brisk, so has the number of seal pup responses along West Seattle’s shoreline. There has been a noticeable increase in activity the past week or so. According to Seal Sitters volunteer Richard, an avid diver, he has been seeing more bait balls of the small forage fish that are indispensable to the marine ecosystem and a favorite food of seal pups (read more about forage fish here). Last evening until just after dark, Richard and fellow volunteer Suzanne looked over new pup Humphrey who snoozed below Beach Drive. A very tiny pup, Humphrey could stand to snack on some of those fish and pack on some blubber to keep him warm in Puget Sound’s frigid waters. He returned to the water sometime overnight.

Seal pup Tiger continues his/her routine of hauling out just around dark every evening on the Elliott Bay side of West Seattle. He is thriving and it is a joy for volunteers to see such a seemingly healthy, vigorous pup. Tiger does seal pup yoga on the smooth beach sand, stretching his tail high and curving his body into a “u” shape - the classic “banana pose”. This behavior is his way of circulating warmth - or thermoregulating his temperature.

On a somewhat unusual note, for the past two days (possibly more that we were unaware of) pups have been hanging out together on the rocks along one of the sea walls. These young harbor seals come in at high tide during the night and are left quite vulnerable resting on the jagged rocks far above the water level, where they wait for the tide to return.

Each morning, responders have taped off the area above them so that they can rest undisturbed and not be at risk for fall and potential injury. Despite this, on Tuesday morning a woman went under the tape clearly marked with a “Do Not Enter” sign, standing a few yards from the pups and refused to leave, asking what harm she was doing. We tried to explain to her that there was a very real danger to these pups if they were scared and tumbled down 15 feet of craggy rocks with deep holes (seal pups Henry and Spanky fell deep into holes in past seasons). It was truly sad that this woman created such an ugly and contentious scene over our efforts to give these pups some rest. The pups could easily be seen from a sidewalk viewpoint and the posted signs explained that seal pups need undisrupted, stress-free rest to survive against challenging odds - a 50% mortality. People standing too close is most definitely a source of stress, which has been proven in many studies to negatively impact health in humans and animals.

Volunteers set up a viewing scope so that the public could get an exceptionally close view of the pups, one with a beautiful light coat and the other with luxurious dark fur. It was a fantastic opportunity for passersby to learn about seal pup biology and behavior. The two pups returned to Elliott Bay mid-afternoon Tuesday when the tide finally reached them (photo right). The body weight of these two weaner pups seems to reflect that there is indeed more of a food source out there and we’ve observed quite a few pups fishing offshore. Most often, a pup will haul out close to where he is foraging.

Yesterday morning before dawn, two light-coated pups were resting in almost the same spot. Unfortunately, as daylight increased, so did their nerves. The first jittery pup scooted back down the rocks to get to the water, tumbling the last few feet before landing in the bay with a big splash. This prompted the other pup to follow suit, disappearing in a watery splat.

These pups, only 2-3 months old, are now on their own with no adult to protect them. There is certainly safety in numbers for newly weaned pups; while one catches a snooze the other can be on the alert, providing a more satisfying rest. In all, Seal Sitters responded to 4 pups in West Seattle yesterday, with 3 the day before. We are comparing distinct markings to determine if the pups on the rocks are new visitors to our shores and will update Blubberblog with our findings.

Seal pup Skittles resting, Seal Sitters sprinting

For the third day in a row, skinny little seal pup Skittles has been using the shoreline along the Alki Beach side of West Seattle to soak up some sun. Yesterday, Seal Sitters received a call about 1pm and found him (or her) zonked on the sand at Alki Beach next to a log. Responders established a substantial perimeter around the pup, anticipating that he would come closer up on the beach as the tide came in. Indeed, he did and offered a great view for all the passersby who peered through the “scope” for a closeup look and had their many questions answered by volunteers. As the afternoon wore on into evening, hungry volunteers who had spent many hours protecting Skittles, munched on pizza picked up from a nearby restaurant. The pup was still on the beach late into the night, but went into the Sound before sunrise.

Early this morning, our responder searched the beaches at first light and found the sleeping pup on another beach. Skittles snoozed peacefully throughout the morning under the watchful eye of volunteers - unaware that a woman running with her off leash dog was headed straight for him. Our volunteer alertly intercepted her and she left the beach. We believe this is the same woman and dog that scared seal pup Henry last year on this same beach, causing him to fall deep into a hole in the rocks. Around noon, Skittles stirred, woke up and swam off into the waves.

We had a feeling he would reappear shortly to the south on Alki Beach - and so he did. Volunteer Betsy spotted him at the very north end of the beach. We schlepped cones, stakes and sandwich boards and established yet another perimeter around the pup who was resting at the tideline. In the photo above, he does the banana pose, regulating his body temperature. Skittles didn’t stay long, though, and as some waves lapped at him, he turned and swam south.

Volunteers lost sight of his little silver head in the blue waters, but noticed that a pup that had just hopped up on one of the platforms at the south end of Alki. We compared photographs of the pup on the raft with photos taken today on the beach and it was Skittles. As darkness fell, he was still safely on the raft.

Skittles is terribly, terribly thin, has some minor flipper wounds and it looks as though he has been scratching his chest. If you see a pup on shore, please call our hotline immediately @ 206-905-7325 (SEAL). We are keeping a close eye on his health.

9/28 7:30 am PUPDATE
Skittles was still resting on the raft under a double rainbow early this morning. We hope he stays out on this much safer alternative to the beach with an easy in and out of the water for lots of snacks.

Seal superhero rescues Spanky

Seal Sitters volunteers had some extremely anxious hours yesterday and today worried about seal pup Spanky. Around 4pm yesterday, an alert volunteer observing from the far end of the tape perimeter noticed Spanky repositioning himself on a high rock just below the sea wall. Spanky lost his balance and fell backwards, deep into a hole surrounded by a pile of huge boulders. Volunteers waited nervously to see if he could somehow climb back up or find an escape route at the bottom. Unfortunately, there was no escape option for Spanky and a low tide meant he had no water to help elevate him. Volunteers scaled the wall and inspected Spanky’s predicament, but there was no way we could reach in far enough to pull him out. Fire Department officials offered sympathy, but could not help because of insurance and liability issues. We knew the high tide at almost 1am this morning would not be high enough - and that the next high tide was not for another full 12 hours after that. Would it even be high enough for him to maneuver out and over the steep, slick rocks?

We turned to WDFW Marine Mammal Investigations’ biologist Dyanna Lambourn for her usual sage advice. She thought perhaps with a snare we could loop his back flippers and pull him up. So, that was the game plan put into action for this morning. Having spent a long and stressful night, Spanky was still trapped inside the hole at 6am, but was alert - a good sign. Read More...

Stranding Networks play important role in Northwest

Occasionally, someone questions the authority of Seal Sitters MMSN to establish a perimeter to protect marine mammals. Additionally, several people have wondered “how much is it costing?” We’d like to formally address those questions here.

“Seal Sitters MMSN, part of NOAA's Northwest Marine Mammal Stranding Network, responds to reports of live and dead marine mammals from West Seattle to Marysville. The NWMMSN consists of a number of organizations, including WA Dept of Fish and Wildlife and Cascadia Research, and many volunteers who cover the entire inner and outer coast of Washington and Oregon. Seal Sitters has a signed agreement with NOAA and therefore has the authority to establish any necessary perimeter around a marine mammal to prevent disturbance or harassment, as per federal law passed in 1972 - the Marine Mammal Protection Act. While NOAA recommends that people stay a minimum of 100 yards away, we realize that is not always possible in an urban environment. We make every attempt to enable a marine mammal to rest onshore without greatly inconveniencing the public. That said, our primary goal is protection and safety for both the animal and the public. Sometimes, there may be a slight inconvenience in order to do so.

Seal Sitters is an all-volunteer organization and does this service and educational outreach with no monetary compensation from the City, State or NOAA.”

Please, respect both the barriers and the volunteers who donate many selfless hours, sometimes under trying circumstances. Already this season, we have had many days with pups in multiple locations. Volunteers Eilene and David (photo above) are among those who tirelessly educate the public about lovable seal pups, such as Henry along Alki Avenue. Seal Sitters greatly appreciates the support and cooperation of our community! We do have many operational expenses throughout the year, including maintaining our dedicated phone hotline and websites, as well as printed outreach and training materials. If you’d like to make a tax deductible donation to help us continue this valuable work, please click here.

Pups snooze under watchful eyes

Seal Sitters volunteers continue to look over pups as they take long naps on shore. Henry was back in his rocky spot yesterday for an extended hiatus from Puget Sound. We also received a report late in the day about a pup on the beach at the south end of West Seattle. This pup was found in a deep sleep between some logs and the incoming tide. The park was relatively deserted so our volunteers kept a very low presence and the pup, dubbed Sleepy, had a peaceful slumber nestled safely on shore.

Human interference a serious threat to seal pups

Seal Sitters has responded to two incidents the past few days involving human interference in the Everett area, both by well-meaning but misguided folks. Never pour water or place clothing or towels over seal pups. Material placed over a struggling pup can cause severe health consequences from over-heating. It is a federal offense to touch, move or feed a marine mammal as written into the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972. Keep your distance from a seal pup or seal on the beach and call the stranding network or NOAA Hotline. Violators will be prosecuted or heavily fined by NOAA’s Office for Law Enforcement.

In West Seattle over the past few days, we had two incidents of off leash dogs with owners who flagrantly violated the “no dogs on beach” ordinance - with the knowledge that there was a seal pup on the beach. In the case yesterday, a woman running on the beach refused to control and leash her dog, even after being informed that we had a very small pup on the rocks. As they ran by, seal pup Henry was scared and fell deep into a hole in the rocks, distressed and apparently stuck. As our volunteers scrambled to assess how to intervene for a rescue if necessary, Henry managed to free himself and crawl out onto the beach. Our volunteers remained on the beach to prevent any further incidents. Every year dogs maul or kill seal pups in the Northwest. All persons willfully violating the MMPA will be reported to NOAA Office for Law Enforcement. A violation includes an act by a human that in any way alters the behavior of a marine mammal - including causing them to relocate. Seal Sitters tries our best to maintain a reasonable perimeter so that a pup may rest undisturbed in a very urban environment. Please be respectful of seals’ need to rest onshore!

Busy days for Seal Sitters protecting pups

The past few days have been very busy for Seal Sitters volunteers. Early Sunday morning, a pup hauled out on the sand at the north end of Alki Beach. When our responder arrived there were already people too close to the pup. She established a large perimeter him in anticipation of huge crowds on the beach on such a beautiful weekend. Volunteers were present throughout the day, informing the public that the pup appeared healthy and was getting the necessary rest needed for survival. The pup was identified through photos to be IQ, the “very smart” pup who hauled out the day before at the opposite end of the beach. IQ returned to the Sound about 6pm - a long, but rewarding day for our volunteers. Many of our new volunteers were able to get their feet wet (so to speak) talking to the public and observing the habits of a pup on shore.

Yesterday morning a very tiny and alert pup (shown above) was resting high on the lichen-covered rocks just below the sea wall. The pup had come in at high tide during the night. Since people were running and walking along the wall just feet above the pup (and sometimes stopping to talk excitedly about him), we established a tape perimeter to keep people and dogs back. This pup was named Henry by an enthusiastic onlooker. An incident with a woman on the beach who refused to leash and control her dog caused the pup to be scared off the rocks. Her careless act may have caused injury to Henry (see related story). We repeatedly try to stress to dog owners that dogs truly are a threat to these vulnerable seal pups!

This weekend was busy for our Sno-King investigator as well with multiple pups in the Everett area, some involving human interference as well - this time, however, by well-meaning individuals.

Thanks to all our volunteers who have put in such long hours the past week!
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