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Seal pup loss a reminder how vulnerable weaned pups are

“Beliissima!” the dark-haired woman exclaimed as she peered through the scope from behind the Protected Marine Mammal tape. Though the young couple visiting from Italy didn’t speak a word of English, no translation was needed as they oozed joy from the surprise sight of a seal pup snoozing below them.

“Beautiful” indeed was Pumpkin, who had unexpectedly come ashore during daylight hours on Wednesday, after having already spent a number of hours resting overnight.

Thin but alert, she slept throughout the day and crept higher up on the sand as the tide slowly moved in. Finally, late in the afternoon a series of waves swept over Pumpkin and she swam off into the Sound, returning a couple of hours later. She rested until after dark and Seal Sitters volunteers headed home. Checking the closed beach at 8:45pm, our first responder found she was gone. However, Pumpkin was back again before 6:30am Thursday and was lethargic throughout the morning.

This increased need to be ashore was not a good sign for a thin, weaned pup - all of whom are struggling mightily this time of year. With dwindling fat stores for energy and warmth, each day is a battle between life and death. Sadly, around 1pm yesterday, this tiny white pup lost that battle and died at the water’s edge, trying to return to Puget Sound.

Heartfelt thanks to all of the volunteers who gave Pumpkin the best chance we could to rest, warm up and gain strength, free from harassment and stress. The passing of each seal pup - and Seal Sitters MMSN has had more than our quota of death this pupping season - is a constant reminder how terribly fragile these vulnerable animals are, with 50% mortality their first year. Please, Share the Shore with wildlife - you might very well save a life.

Long days and lots of seal pups strech volunteers thin

The past days have seen a whirlwind of seal pup activity in West Seattle. On Tuesday, Seal Sitters responded to a total of 5 resting pups, all in far-flung locations - from the southernmost neighborhood of our boundary to the most northern point.

Four of those pups were terribly thin and desperately needed sanctuary on shore and volunteers worked in shifts from early morning til dark protecting them. Seal pup Autumn at Lincoln Park and seal pup Mahina,(Hawaiian for “moon”) near Cormorant Cove returned to the water overnight.

Seal pup Surfer (photo above) tried to rest in a spot just below rowdy ferry commuters who talked loudly and took photos. Our responder kept watch over Surfer, intercepting 4 beach walkers with off-leash dogs. Each person was strolling along the sand with mobile device earbuds firmly implanted, oblivious to their surroundings and their dogs running far ahead of them. Barely able to get their attention before it was too late, seververal dogs came within 15 feet of the pup. The last, a large white dog, came even closer before the owner restrained the excited animal - and Surfer was scared back into the water, wasting precious calories.

Seal pup Pumpkin (right) has continued to haul out each night at the same small beach, but yesterday surprised us with a daytime visit. We were finally able to get a decent health assessment and i.d. photos of the elusive pup. She has either changed her foraging patterns, but based on her thin condition, likely needs more time ashore to build up enough strength to forage.

Seal pup Seacil still hangs out on the rocky shoreline along Elliott Bay each day and night, in between foraging trips for tiny bait fish.

Over the past week, Seal Sitters volunteers have educated many, many hundreds of people about harbor seal behavior and our fragile marine environment thanks to these tiny ambassadors who grace us with their presence.

Seal pup entertains as volunteers educate the public

seacil-splash-wmA seal pup nicknamed Seacil has been charming passersby and volunteers for the past few days along the shore of Elliott Bay. The pup periodically snacks on what appears to be a bounty of tiny fish just offshore and then returns to rest on craggy rocks that comprise the seawall - usually just after high tide. Trying to snooze at the water’s edge is not always uneventful, however. Shown here, Seacil has hauled out at high tide, only to be engulfed in a series of waves from a freighter headed out into Puget Sound from the Port of Seattle. Undaunted, the pup held fast and then nonchalantly settled in for a very long nap. It’s hard to imagine complaining about a lumpy mattress when you watch pups trying to find a comfy spot to sleep on jagged rocks!

With several days of beautiful weather, Seal Sitters had an opportunity to educate many hundreds of people walking and biking the Alki Trail. Volunteers cheerily spread some blubber-love and distributed stickers to fascinated children. Finally, we have a vibrant pup to protect after such a dreary start to our season in West Seattle.

On Saturday morning, a second pup named Kazoo (at left) rested briefly on the same stretch of rocks along with Seacil. It was our first sighting of both pups.

Another highlight to the week was continuing to ensure that our little ghost of a pup, Pumpkin, is safe at night. She comes ashore after dark each evening, returning before first light. We have only seen the tiny white pup a few times, but always see her tracks in the sand very early each morning. Access to the small beach is closed off each night at dark and the tape is removed the next morning, after checking to make sure she has returned to the Sound.

Volunteers protect three seals onshore yesterday

Yesterday was a busy one for Seal Sitters’ first responders and volunteers as we looked over three harbor seals trying to rest along the shoreline. First up at 5am was the discovery of a little pup snoozing on a small pocket beach notorious for early morning dogs. Our responder blocked off access to ensure the pup’s safety until he (or she) flop-hopped back to the Sound around 6:15. This pup (and possibly another) seems to be using this same beach under cover of night, returning to the water about the same time early each morning before sunrise - this according to tracks left in the sand leading down to the water’s edge. Yesterday morning was the first good look we’ve had of this very sly and mysterious pup, nicknamed Pumpkin, who was thin but moved without hesitation across the beach in search of a seafood breakfast.

Around noon, the hotline received a call about a harbor seal “pup” at West Seattle’s busy boat ramp. It was, however, the same thin adult female who has been hauling out on the docks off and on over the past few days. Seal Sitters has been monitoring the health of this animal who has an infected wound on her mouth and appears to be battling some kind of respiratory issues. Her ragged fur indicates she is probably just about to begin a taxing molt of her coat to grow a new, sleek one before winter. During molts, seals spend more and more time resting out of the water and less time foraging.

Launching and retrieving boaters have been very cooperative in letting her rest undisturbed. Nicknamed Jellybean, she is shown here enjoying the warm sun and checking out the boating activity on the opposite dock. In conversations with the fishermen, we have learned that fish stocks seem to be pretty bleak right now. The few fish that are being caught have empty bellies - with none of the bait or “forage” fish that harbor seal pups in particular favor. However, coho salmon which are returning to spawn do not usually forage on their journey, so an empty stomach would not necessarily indicate a lack of bait fish. But fishermen do report that there have not been many herring balls in our area - perhaps the underlying reason we are seeing so many struggling and terribly thin pups again this year - and higher than normal mortality rates for West Seattle.

Jellybean returned to Elliott Bay about 6:30pm and several pups were observed swimming nearby in the pastel blue and pink water. Perhaps one of those pups was the same one who unsuccessfully tried to haul out on the dock next to Jellybean the day before. Volunteers lingered to make sure the adult didn’t return. As the sun dipped behind Admiral hill, California sea lions cruised by close to shore against a backdrop of Seattle’s shimmering gold skyline - a stunning Pacific Northwest evening.

Very late in the afternoon, we responded to a report of a yet another seal pup resting on a beach on the west side. The small, cholcoate-colored pup was protected by volunteers until dark when the high tide crept in to close off access.

Thanks to our first responders and the many volunteers who enjoyed a day of sunshine, laughter and camaraderie, learning and, most importantly, the satisfaction of knowing they helped animals in need.
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