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Pupping season

Seal pupping season well underway

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Now that Washington and Oregon residents are finally getting hot summer weather, many will be heading for beaches to enjoy some sun and vacation time. This is a reminder that harbor seal pupping season is currently well underway along the Pacific coast and the inland waters of Washington State.

Many rotund pregnant females (photo right) can be seen hauled out on sandbars and rocky outcroppings. Seal moms with newborn pups, many still nursing - along with pups that are newly weaned and now all on their own - are resting on shore and on private docks and marinas. For a map showing pupping seasons in the various regions of Washington state, click here.

DO NOT FEED, TOUCH OR MOVE SEAL PUPS - ALWAYS STAY BACK
Please be alert if you are strolling along ocean and Puget Sound beaches. On outer coast beaches that permit motorized vehicles, be extra cautious - a tiny seal pup can look like a piece of bleached driftwood, easily run over and killed. If you come across a pup, please stay back and observe quietly from a distance. Contact the local stranding network.

It is normal for a seal pup to be alone on the beach - always keep dogs leashed and away. Occasionally a mother harbor seal will leave her pup resting alone, returning to nurse. Or, if a pup was born on a dock or raft, often the pup cannot get back up onto the structure with mom and will end up on shore nearby. If there are people and dogs too close, she may abandon the pup. Most times, however, the pup will accompany mom to learn how to forage. Once pups are weaned at 4-6 weeks, they will be all on their own, using shoreline daily to rest and warm up before returning to the water. Seals of all ages rest on shore about 50% of their day. Undisturbed, stress-free rest is crucial to their survival.

STAY FAR AWAY FROM SEAL HAUL-OUTS TO PREVENT PUP ABANDONMENT
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If you are boating, stay 100 yards away from harbor seal haul-outs, where large numbers of seals gather for safety during pupping season. A study has shown that passing boats and kayaks are less fearsome, but vessels that stop are likely to cause animals to flush from shore. Always stay back. If the colony is disrupted, newborn pups may be abandoned due to boating disturbance and harassment. Stay back as well from log booms, rafts and docks with resting seals.

MARINE MAMMALS ARE PROTECTED BY FEDERAL LAW
It is illegal to disturb marine mammals. Harassment can be reported by calling NOAA Office for Law Enforcement’s national hotline at 1-800-853-1964 (information may be left anonymously, but details are critical for enforcement purposes).

In South Puget Sound, seal pupping season usually begins in late-June and extends into the first week of September. As pups are weaned in area rookeries, they venture off to surrounding areas. West Seattle’s busiest months for newly weaned seal pups are September and October, but over the past few years, more lanugo (premature) and newborn pups have been seen here in June. These newborn pups in urban areas, like lanugo pup Luigi, are highly likely to be abandoned because of human activity and off-leash dogs.

If you see a pup alone onshore, stay back and notify your local Marine Mammal Stranding Network. In West Seattle, call the Seal Sitters hotline @ 206-905-SEAL (9325). Click the links for a map of stranding networks in the Pacific Northwest: Washington map | Puget Sound map | Oregon map

Visit Seal Sitters’ website to learn more about harbor seals.

Seal pups are popping out all over South Puget Sound

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Harbor seal moms are now giving birth all over the South Puget Sound region and will continue to do so until early September (as late as October in Hood Canal - see pupping season map).

In the ideal world, pups are born on remote beaches, far from potential interference from humans and dogs. However, births also occur on marina docks, log booms, offshore platforms, boat launches and beaches popular for swimming and kayaking.

Shown in the photo here are two moms with their pups resting on a logboom breakwater near a marina. The chubby pup (center) appears close to being weaned and a small, newborn pup is in the background. Pups are generally weaned at around 4 weeks old.

Please respect wildlife’s need to rest and nurse their young. Whether you’re on land or in a watercraft, please keep your distance to avoid disturbance and possible abandonment. All marine mammals are protected from harassment by the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Visit Seal Sitters’ dedicated website page for more information on harbor seals and pups.

Seal pupping season in full swing - stay away from seals and pups!

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Harbor seal pupping season is underway in Washington. Seal pups can be found resting and warming up on coastal beaches and along inland waters. On the outer coast, about 75% of all pups are weaned and on their own - and commonly seen alone on the beach.

Nursing pups, however, are dependent on their moms for survival for the first 4-6 weeks of their lives. In the waters of Central and South Puget Sound, pups are born from late June through the first week of September (view a map of pupping season in WA). Always stay far back from any pup you come across.

A harbor seal mom, shy and wary of humans, will abandon her pup if people and dogs are around. Use common sense and help protect wildlife from harassment and abandonment.

YOUR PRESENCE CAN CAUSE STRESS AND ABANDONMENT
As you head for the beach, know that seashore revelry is definitely no party for harbor seal pups, who are seeking to rest onshore. Humans and dogs cause pups to be abandoned every year. A harbor seal mom often will not return for her nursing pup if there is a disturbance or perceived threat. It goes without saying that July fireworks cause animals to be abandoned every year.

If you find a spot for your picnic on a beach near a harbor seal, please move your picnic to another beach. There are reports of people with blankets and coolers surrounding a lone seal pup - finally calling the stranding network wondering why the mother did not return.

Weaned seal pups need space to rest undisturbed as well. A pup that is scared into the water wastes precious calories - and this can truly be the difference between life and death.

This is a reminder that when you venture out to the beach, whether by trail or boat, please respect animals’ space and need for quiet. Stay back!

SEALS ARE PROTECTED BY LAW FROM HARASSMENT
Please stay a minimum of 100 yards away from resting seals
. Like all marine mammals, they are protected from harassment by the Marine Mammal Protection Act and Washington State law RCW 77.15.130 (a criminal misdemeanor, mandatory court appearance, punishable with up to 90 days in jail and up to $1000 fine).

STAY FAR AWAY FROM HARBOR SEAL HAUL-OUTS
Harbor seals gather in large groups this time of year at haul-outs (called rookeries during pupping season), where moms and pups find safety in numbers. Pups pay a terrible price for human disturbance. The seal pup shown above was found in 2012, starving on Cutts Island, along with two other emaciated pups and several dead ones. All had been abandoned by their mothers because boaters disrupted the seal colony on this small South Puget Sound island near Gig Harbor. Durning boating season, thousands of boats can be moored offshore at Cutts, disrupting this historic harbor seal haul-out.

A day of boating fun for people can be a death sentence for seal pups. When you are boating or kayaking, please stay far away from resting harbor seals.

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In South Puget Sound, you might see a premature or lanugo pup on shore. Lanugos, like seal pup “Luigi” at Alki Beach (photo left), are identified by their long, wavy white fur which is typically shed in the womb. They do not have fully developed lungs and muscles and are likely to be abandoned in the wild.

Please contact the stranding network to respond to a lanugo pup.



RESPECT NATURE AND STAY BACK
Leave seal pups be - don’t touch, move or feed them.
If you are concerned about a pup, call the NOAA hotline @ 1-866-767-6114. To learn more about harbor seals and pups, visit Seal Sitters website here.
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