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Fishing gear - and feeding - a grave danger for seal pups

Yesterday afternoon, we received the necropsy report from WDFW-MMI on seal pup Solo. The very small pup was rescued from Don Armeni Boat Launch Tuesday night, but was euthanized Wednesday at PAWS Wildlife Center. The necropsy revealed that Solo’s right eye had been punctured, most likely from a fish hook, which had caused a significant infection inside the pup’s head. Other potential causes could be a bite from a dog or other seal, but there would have been evidence of other wounds or bruising of tissue around the eye socket - and there was none. It’s estimated the wound was inflicted about 5 days prior.

Since the area around the boat ramp is frequented by fishermen casting from both shore and the fishing piers, this would seem a very probable cause. One morning, much to the distress of one of our volunteers, a fisherman insisted on casting out among seal pups who were foraging close to shore. West Seattle is a daily destination for many fishermen who can be seen all along the shoreline from Jack Block Park to Lincoln Park.

Some fishermen will toss bait to seals thinking it will keep them satisfied and less inclined to steal their bait or catch. This is far from the truth. A seal that has been fed will actually seek out humans because it learns to associate humans with easy meals and, consequently, become conditioned to not hunt on his own. Pups learn to be attracted to fishing piers and docks and they will sometimes steal from a fishing line. Needless to say, that does not endear them to some fishermen who may even retaliate. It is dangerous on so many levels. Seals can swallow deadly lures or become entangled in derelict line. Encouraging pups to hang out in these areas can often have disastrous results - as it apparently did for Solo.

If you’re fishing in an area and a seal is hanging out, take a break and the seal will most likely move on. Please use barbless hooks to reduce the chance of harming them. Make sure all derelict line and gear is removed from beaches and piers.

Unfortunately, sometimes people purchase bait at local shops not for fishing purposes, but to feed seals from docks and piers. This can be dangerous not only for seals and sea lions, but for those feeding them. In Victoria, BC, a young child was pulled into the water as her father cleaned fish on a dock popular for feeding seals. Several locations in Victoria promote seal feeding as an attraction. The outer coast of Washington has several marinas where sea lions have become a nuisance because people feed them. Because they associate people with fish, the sea lions have actually ripped fish from people walking along the dock. An Everett, WA, boat launch has a similar problem with harbor seals. It is only a matter of time before someone is hurt - and, of course, the seals and sea lions will unfairly bear the blame and punishment. Fish should be cleaned at designated cleaning stations - not on the docks - and scraps should be discarded. DO NOT FEED MARINE MAMMALS. Not only is it illegal - you are putting them and others at risk.

Solo was a very tiny male pup, measuring only 71 cm (90 cm is average length of a newly weaned pup). It is thought that he was most likely a lanugo pup, born prematurely. Even if her pup is born early, a seal mom will still only nurse for 4-6 weeks. After that, she needs to replenish her own fat stores.

Seal pups galore on West Seattle shores

It’s been a crazy week so far for Seal Sitters. On Tuesday, volunteers responded to reports of 4 harbor seal pups in varying locations in West Seattle. First responders and volunteer scheduler Connie all scrambled to ensure that they were kept safe. The last call of the day came into the hotline around 6:15 of a pup at Don Armeni Boat Launch. Unfortunately, when responders arrived they found a seal pup having seizures at the tideline. The pup was carried up onto the beach and a quick exam in the darkness revealed that he was suffering from a traumatic head injury. Evidently, the pup had been sighted at the ramp around 4pm, but no call was made to Seal Sitters dedicated hotline for over two hours. By the time we received a report, arriving at the ramp only minutes later, PAWS Wildlife Center had already closed for the night, leaving no option for treatment until morning. The pup, nicknamed Solo, was moved to a secure, warmer location and taken to PAWS early yesterday morning. Sadly, the pup had to be humanely euthanized by the attending vet. A necropsy will be conducted on the small, male pup.

This is a reminder to please call us immediately upon encountering a seal pup or other marine mammal on the beach. If you have a smart phone, but can’t remember our hotline number (206-905-7325: we suggest folks enter it into their cell phones), even a simple web search for “seal pups Seattle” will bring up our website.

Yesterday, another 4 pups (seemingly different ones) were spread out in the four corners of West Seattle. Shown here, seal pup Harley is reluctant to return to fog-cloaked Puget Sound at high tide, even after resting for many hours. Harley has good body weight, but some wounds on his rear flippers.

Just as darkness fell and the fog continued to thicken, the hotline fielded a report that a pup had hauled out at Lincoln Park. Due to safety concerns for volunteers after dark in the remote park, there was no response. However, later in the evening we responded to and taped off a pup in another location, one highly vulnerable to people and off leash dogs. During the night someone tore the tape, breached the perimeter and was coming up the beach stairs when our responder arrived. He said he “didn’t know” there was a seal on the beach despite “do not enter” and “harbor seal pup resting here” signs clearly posted with tape and barricades. Thankfully, our responder saw that the pup was still sleeping on shore and repaired the tape.

Today, in stark contrast, there were no pups on shore that we know of, as responders did routine checks of the shoreline throughout the day and evening.
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