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Taffy continues to come ashore almost daily, health declining

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For over 4 weeks now, seal pup Taffy has come ashore almost daily at West Seattle’s Alki Beach. Taffy’s schedule has become less predictable as her health declines. She is battling not only injury to her fore flippers, but has been showing signs of respiratory issues with increased coughing jags.

Unfortunately, chances for capture - and rehabilitation - have been challenging to say the least due to the limited access location, Taffy’s hyper-awareness of any and all activity around her, and the fact that she is almost always just a few feet at most from the water’s edge. An older pup, estimated about 8 months old, she is more worldly and much more aware of the dangers around her than newly-weaned pups (on their own at 4-6 weeks old) who will begin arriving to Seattle’s shoreline in August thru October. Taffy has been scared into the water numerous times at Alki.

Seal Sitters First Responders hope to have a better chance at capture as she becomes more lethargic. Today, Taffy rested a bit too long onshore at a very low tide and had an arduous trip across two sandbars, forcing her to use her fore flippers, to get back to open water.

Seal pup decides to mix things up

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After lulling Seal Sitters first responders into a sense of regularity over the past week, seal pup Taffy pulled a fast one and showed up early! Instead of hauling out during high tide yesterday, she came around 9am - a good four hours sooner than expected.

Once again, vigilant volunteer Nicole was the first to spot her, thru binoculars from her home well south of the tape perimeter, left standing to make beachcombers aware of Taffy’s daily comings and goings. Dashing to the beach, Nicole guarded the area while FRs Lynn and Robin checked the seal’s health from a distance with binocs and a long telephoto lens. They looked for bloody mucous from the mouth, seen on previous days and a sign of parasitic lung issues, and were relieved to see nothing unusual.

On a dark gray morning and in a heavy downpour, Taffy stretched her rear flippers and tail up in the air, circulating warmth thru her body. Like always, she was alert to our presence far down the sea wall. As she settled in on the fine sand beach, Volunteer Scheduler for the day Karin began checking the online calendar to see who was available to lend a hand for the day.

Unless absolutely necessary, the seal pup continues to avoid using either fore flipper. Taffy left the beach several times around 12:30 pm after a series of waves crashed over her with the incoming high tide, but returned within minutes each time. Finally, around 1pm, she gave up and swam out into the flat silver water - just as the sun came out and crowds of people (and off-leash dogs) started to appear. While Taffy was still onshore, a man with two off-leash pitbulls threw a ball for his dogs near the perimeter.

Though the pup never seems to get any real sleep or calm rest, she didn’t seem quite as anxious yesterday - likely due to the few people out in gloomy weather. Many thanks to Nicole, Colette, Owen, Sarah, Jonel and Dave for protecting Taffy. As usual, Karin did a great job lining up volunteers. Molly arrived just as Taffy was leaving, but stayed until 4pm, knitting in her car and keeping an eye on the beach just in case the pup returned for some more rest.

Now that Taffy has decided to mix things up as far as hauling out, it will be more of a challenge to keep her safe on the beach.

Seal pup Taffy as predictable as rain in Seattle

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Rain, rain, rain. Taffy, Taffy, Taffy. That pretty much sums up the last days for Seal Sitters volunteers, who continue to provide protection for the seal pup attempting to rest in West Seattle. First Responders are just about as bedraggled as our ragged yellow tape perimeter that has been taped and re-taped along Alki Beach and the adjacent Puget Sound seawall almost daily for going on two weeks now.

Taffy has been exhibiting signs of some health issues which we are monitoring closely. She is becoming thinner and is dehydrated. Because the active pup continues to be on high alert, very aware of any happenings around her, she gets no real rest. Taffy sticks close to the tideline, so capture poses challenges, but we are on standby should the opportunity - or need - presents itself. It is always in the best interest of a seal pup to remain in the wild whenever possible and avoid the stress of handling. If her health declines, she will require more time onshore.

While we cannot see any obvious wounds, the pup is reluctant to use either fore flipper. This makes her quite vulnerable when on land - even more so than the usual lack of mobility seals have out of the water. Unlike sea lions, they cannot rotate their hind flippers for locomotion and, instead, wriggle on shore in a caterpillar-like motion (click here to see a video of harbor seal locomotion). The danger of harassment, injury or worse from off-leash dogs at this beach continues to be a major concern at this location.

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Throughout yesterday morning, volunteers made regular jaunts to Alki, looking for the weaned pup at her small chosen corner of sandy beach, even though she typically hauls out after high tide. Around noon, just before high tide, volunteer Nicole (shown in green jacket in photo above, along with First Responder Lynn) peered thru binoculars, out her beachfront apartment window, and spotted Taffy flopping ashore. Nicole sent out a quick text “Taffy on beach” as she and partner Eric hopped on their bicycles and headed the seal pup’s way.

First Responders Lynn and Robin quickly arrived to tighten up the tape perimeter on the seawall and extend the tape on the open beach just south. A creature of habit, Taffy was barely visible, nestled next to her favorite rock below the wall.

Many thanks to volunteers Molly, David, Kate, Betsy, Eric, Nicole, Jonel, and Jennifer who, in two-hour shifts and often pouring rain, talked to passersby. Young Seal Sitters stewards Yma and Didi did an impromptu beach cleanup while on duty.

Taffy returned to the Sound shortly after 5pm and is expected to return today.

Seal pup becomes a regular on West Seattle beach

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Just after high tide this morning, the Seal Sitters hotline rang with numerous reports that seal pup Taffy was back at her small stretch of beach in West Seattle. The skittish pup has been a regular visitor to our shores since last Friday (that we know of). After being harassed and chased into the water several times last weekend, she sticks close to the water’s edge for a quick escape from harm.

Taffy appears to be favoring her left front foreflipper and does not use it to bear weight. That said, she continues to appear relatively healthy, with much better body weight and condition than the majority of weaned pups Seal Sitters protects.

The alert pup returned to Puget Sound around 1pm, after a paddle boarder approached too close to shore. This is a reminder to those of you who enjoy water sports: when you are out on the water along West Seattle shoreline, either by board or kayak, and notice yellow tape and cones on the beach or sea wall, please steer far away to prevent scaring a resting pup into the water. The same goes if you see seals and sea lions resting in more remote areas.

NOAA’s Marine Mammal Stranding Network wants seal pups to be able to get the rest they need for survival. Thanks to all the volunteers, including Seal Sitters young vols Stella and Ruby, who pitched in today and talked to an enchanted public, thrilled to be able to observe a pup in full view and so close, due to sidewalk and sea wall constraints.

We expect that Taffy will continue to use this area as long as she feels safe. It is our mission to keep her from harm. Please call Seal Sitters’ hotline at 206-906-SEAL (7325) should you see her - or any of her pup pals - onshore.

Harbor seal pup harassed at Alki Beach - always stay back

(see update at end of post)
A harbor seal pup, trying to come ashore yesterday to get some much-needed rest, was consistently harassed by people and repeatedly scared into Puget Sound. When Seal Sitters MMSN First Responders arrived at sandy Alki Beach, the pup was nowhere in sight. After waiting for about an hour with no sign of the pup, informational signs posted on the seawall above the beach and on the beach itself in hopes it would remind people to STAY AWAY from seal pups.

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Within a couple of hours, the pup had returned and was trying to come ashore. Once again, a crowd of people stood too close above the pup and scared him in. Thankfully, Seal Sitters’ First Responder Lynn was out for a walk and a check of the beach.

She managed to get people to step away from the edge and the seal pup returned ashore. Lynn set about taping off the small bit of beach. As she was doing so, an off-leash dog was approaching and Lynn firmly asked the owner to please remove her dog, illegally on the beach.

First Responder Robin and Lynn then proceeded to tape off access to the top of the seawall which was directly above the pup, just feet below. Protected Marine Mammal and Seals Need to Rest info signage was placed at intervals to educate the public. The pup settled into small crannies between the black boulders at the end of the beach. As the incoming tide forced her to move in and out between rocks, we would get glimpses of the stunning pup (photo above), who looked relatively robust for a approximately 7 or 8-month old weaned pup. This pup, nicknamed (Saltwater) Taffy seems to be doing better than our most recent weaners who have been using West Seattle’s shoreline.

Despite rainy and cold weather, there were still alot of people out on a Sunday afternoon. As the tide receded late in the day, the skittish pup - anxious due to the earlier harassment - emerged from his rocky hiding place to stay closer to the waterline for an easier escape if necessary. The down side of this is that the pup was now fully visible from the sidewalk above and only about 25 feet from the wall. Seal Sitters could not increase the depth of the perimeter because we could not force pedestrians into the bike lane or street for public safety concerns.

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The increased activity and noise of passersby gathering above her, created undue stress for Taffy. Off-duty First Responders Dana and Melinda lent a helping hand and attempted to keep people moving, asking them to observe from the ends of the perimeter, where they had an unobstructed and closeup view as well. You can see in the photo at left that Taffy is visibly stressed by the activity above and behind her.

The definition of harassment or “take” of a marine mammal as defined by NOAA’s Marine Mammal Protection Act is any human (or domestic dog) presence that causes an animal to change his/her behavior. This most certainly includes the disruption of a seal’s rest and scaring the animal back into the water. ALWAYS STAY BACK from resting seals. Rest is crucial to their survival.

Taffy rested until late into the night as cold and wet volunteers dispersed. During the night, First Responder David tightened up the windblown perimeter, pounding the now-wobbly stakes deeper into the ground and adjusting the length of the tape on the beach to accommodate for the tide.

The pup was gone from the beach at 4:30am and again at 5:30 when volunteers Nicole and Eric checked the perimeter. At 6:30am, Robin arrived the site, but there was still no sign of Taffy. However, shortly afterwards, a river otter came ashore and was doing typical otter behavior of rolling about in the sand - that is, until an off-leash Rottweiler scared him into the Sound. The woman was asked to leash her dog and leave the beach, which she did.

Seal Sitters expects Taffy to return to her chosen haul-out and we certainly expect the public to respect wildlife and share the shore. Stay back, keep dogs and people away and please call Seal Sitters’ hotline 206-905-SEAL (7325) if you see Taffy or any other marine mammal onshore.

PUPDATE 3/29/17
Taffy has been coming and going from this same small stretch of beach at irregular times the past two days. This poses challenges for Seal Sitters First Responders trying their best to ensure she can get the rest she needs, free from harassment. Taffy seems pretty healthy as far as we can tell and we’d like to keep it that way - free from stress, which causes health issues in seals, just as it does in humans.

Seal Sitters relies on the public for reports to our hotline 206-905-SEAL (7325) so that we can respond in a timely manner.
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