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Sad ending for sweet seal pup along westside shoreline

Plum-lowman     

Late Thursday morning, Seal Sitters’ hotline operator fielded a call about a harbor seal pup at Lowman Beach, a small public park along Beach Drive. First responder Lars found the pup resting just above the line of kelp that indicated the high tide mark (photo).

He stretched yellow tape between stakes and driftwood to create a safety zone and called the day’s scheduler, who began the process of lining up volunteers in 2-hours shifts throughout the blustery day. The pup was still sleeping on the pebbled beach when volunteers left after darkness fell that night.

The spotted pup was still onshore early Friday morning. We’re not sure if he returned to the water during the night or not. He did finally make the journey back to the Sound around noon and was seen “bottling” (a normal seal behavior, resting vertically with nose and head held just above the water’s surface) for some time and then vanished beneath the surface.

A comparison of facial markings from i.d. photos revealed that the seal was Plum, a frequent occupant of the offshore “Alki platform” (a considerable distance to the north at the west end of Alki Beach). Just over a week ago, Plum had come ashore on private property directly across from the platform to rest under the watchful eye of homeowners. He stretched and yawned and was on the plump side for a newly weaned seal pup. Thursday morning at Lowman, however, the pup looked decidedly thinner and lethargic. Volunteers were encouraged when Plum returned to the Sound around noon to forage, since a skinny pup’s health can slide downhill quickly.

Around 7pm Friday evening, the hotline received a report of a pup onshore at private property just north of Lowman Beach. In fast approaching darkness, first responders were able to identify the pup as Plum. Sadly, early Saturday morning we received a call of a dead pup just yards from where Plum was last seen resting.

Our responder carefully examined tiny Plum for injuries and clues to cause of death. The male weaned pup was shockingly thin, weighing a mere 8.15 kg (less than birth weight) - a far cry from the alert, semi-chubby one we had seen just a week earlier. Plum had numerous puncture wounds to the snout, head and flippers - similar to the puncture wounds of two other pups who died recently along this stretch. One of the punctures on the mouth was abscessed and perhaps caused difficulty foraging. With limited funding for necropsies, we can only surmise the cause of Plum’s death - certainly emaciation was primary. Without an internal exam there is no way to know if the wounds contributed to the death or if there were additional underlying factors.

Plum was marked with a biodegradable grease pen for identification purposes and the responder placed his body back into the Sound to nourish other marine life. Truly, this was a very sad day for us all.
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