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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...

Seal Sitters get a respite today after dawn to dusk days

West Seattle volunteers got a much-needed break today after ten straight days of dawn to dusk duties protecting Umbreon, Sly and Spanky as well as new pups, Noche and Abe. Umbreon (at left as darkness fell on Monday evening), who has been a regular visitor to the same small niche of rocks, spent most of today leisurely foraging and swimming a few feet offshore. He is a very dark pup when wet, but has a beautiful gray and white tweed coat when dry and distinct white markings around the eyes. Umbreon continues to be of good body weight and very alert to his surroundings and potential dangers. Most weaned pups become more wary of people as they get older and are more easily scared off than a young, unsuspecting pup.

Sly, who had been looking too thin and spending more and more hours on shore, finally returned to Elliott Bay early Tuesday morning. Since that time, he has not been observed on his favorite haulout rock. We’re hoping that his many hours of rest has given him the strength to forage and pack on some desperately needed pounds. A small white pup who could be Sly has been observed along with several other pups fishing and lingering in the waters nearby. As pups are weaned and become thinner, their immune system is suppressed, making them vulnerable to parasites and viruses. Small fish seem to be plentiful now around West Seattle and Sly could use a second trip through the buffet line.

Spanky, too, has chosen the relative safety of a rocky stretch of beach, but on the west side. While less accessible to direct threat by humans and dogs, his rest is most definitely disrupted when people get too close on the seawall above him. By definition, a violation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act includes any human disturbance which alters the behavior of a marine mammal. It’s important that we do our part to not disrupt pups whenever possible - sometimes a difficult endeavor when you have a crowd of people who are so enthusiastic at the very sight! Spanky has great body weight and appears to be thriving. Like most pups, he has a few nicks and abrasions, but nothing that appears of concern. He enchanted onlookers late Sunday afternoon as he perched on the tip of a rock surrounded by the brilliant blue water of Puget Sound. Eventually, a series of large swells swept Spanky off his roost (see video clip). Spanky has been one of our regulars and made a brief appearance today.

We have two additional newcomers: Noche who spent the evening on the south end of Alki Beach Sunday (our fourth pup onshore that day) and Abe who came ashore at Lincoln Park on Tuesday. This is one crazy pup season we are having this year - and the volunteers are loving it!

"A double seal pup on the rocks, please"

For the 9th day straight, Sly has used the safety of West Seattle’s rocky shoreline, but is getting thinner by the day. Umbreon has taken a liking to this spot as well, spending the past two days lounging with his friend.

These have been very long and cold days for our volunteers. It would be nice to think that constant vigilance is not necessary, but each day we have had intentional breaches of the tape barrier. Once the tide recedes, the pups are quite high on the rocks and, if scared, face an extreme risk of falling with possible injury. Both pups have already taken such a tumble this past week.

We have also had visits on the west side by seal pups #38 and 39. Please check back for photos/video and updates about these new pups.

Diehard volunteers bundle up to safeguard pups

Seal Sitters volunteers have donned their winter clothing and grabbed their handwarmers for the past six days to protect pups Sly and Umbreon. It has been terribly cold and windy duty and these diehards deserve many kudos for their dedication in safeguarding the weaned pups. Shown here is Jodean, all bundled up with the Seattle skyline behind her. And young volunteer Elizabeth pulled early morning duty with her dad Eric. She is shown here talking to a group of people about the importance of letting Sly get an uninterrupted nap. Thanks to all our amazing volunteers who have put in very long, bone-chiling hours this week!

Sly spent almost 11 hours resting on the rocks, returning to the Sound at evening high tide. A kayaker came too close for a look, scared Sly and he fell onto the rocks below. This is the third incident this season (and the second in two days) where people or dogs have scared a pup high up on rocky banks and the pup has fallen. Please keep your distance whether on land or out on the water. Pups cannot maneuver well on shore (and especially on rocks) so are vulnerable to injury if they are frightened and try to escape. Umbreon did not come ashore today.

Two seal pups on shore again today

For the 5th day straight, seal pup Sly hauled out for a long snooze. He was joined again today by new pup Umbreon, who has shared a small stretch of rocky shoreline for two days now. Apparently there is a good food source of small bait fish off West Seattle’s city side. As a rule, a pup will choose a resting place close to where he forages. Last year, we had three fat seal pups using this vicinity to feed and rest for many days in a row. What do seal pups eat? They like tiny fish like shiner perch, 3 spined sticklebacks, starry flounder, gunnel, shrimp and squid. Unfortunately, small fish thrive in the underwater environment created by man-made structures such as docks and fishing piers; that is often the reason that pups are drawn to these places with inherent dangers of fishing gear and vehicles. And people who feed pups or dump bait at these locations only reinforce learned behavior that can be deadly in the long run - they are not doing pups a favor.

Umbreon (photo left), a dark pup with distinct white squiggles around the eyes, was very skittish today on his high rock perch. An unwitting paddle boarder came too close and scared Umbreon, who tumbled down the rocks into the water below. We don’t know if the pup was injured since he did not return. Please remember when you are out on the water, you need to keep your distance from pups on shore. Sly disappeared back into Elliott Bay only after being engulfed in waves from high tide (photo above). Volunteers braved wind and cold to keep an eye on the two pups, #36 and 37 that we have watched over since August.

Curious pup delights volunteers and public

Our responder found seal pup Sly nestled on the seaweed covered rocks of Elliott Bay early this morning. For the third day in a row, this alert white pup with hints of gold fur has rested for many hours. Volunteers talked to occasional walkers on this blustery and, at times, torrentially wet day.

Late in the afternoon, Sly quite reluctantly returned to the water, but only when waves at high tide rushed repeatedly over him. Then, to the delight and surprise of volunteers and onlookers, Sly swam close-in along the shore towards the small group on the bank.
He lingered just a few feet offshore - staring curiously at us, as if analyzing these crazy humans who stood out in a downpour most of the day to keep him safe. This interaction was really quite unusual in our 4 years of stranding work; our lead investigator could only recall two other similar instances - one was seal pup Boo and the other, Abby the elephant seal, who swam over to her, blowing bubbles an arm’s length away offshore. We will be on the lookout for Sly tomorrow.

Sly little pup finds a rocky spot

The hotline received a call late morning about a pup on West Seattle’s city side. Our responder found the pup, who had evidently hauled out at high tide, enjoying a sunbreak on the rocks. A tape perimeter was set and the pup, nicknamed Sly, rested for several hours before returning to Elliott Bay. One bystander wondered why we couldn’t move the tape so people could get a view of him on the rocks below. Unfortunately, that would have meant that folks would be a mere 15 or 20 feet (NOAA recommends 100 yards) from the pup and a gathering crowd would have disrupted the pup’s much-needed shut-eye. If you can see the pup, he can see you - and hear you (seals have excellent hearing). In this particular situation, it was not possible to have a good vantage point for viewing him. More likely than not, Sly would have been scared back into the water, possibly coming ashore on the nearby Don Armeni boat launch, a very dangerous place for a small pup and at times an inconvenient situation for boaters and fishermen.
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