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Pupping season gets off to an early - and rough - start

For the second June in a row, Seal Sitters has responded to a premature pup on West Seattle’s shore. At 5pm on Wednesday, the hotline fielded a call about a tiny pup resting near the Alki Lighthouse on Coast Guard property.

First Responder Lynn was on the scene within minutes. Through her binoculars, she could see that the pup was covered almost entirely in fluffy, white lanugo fur, normally shed inside the womb as a pup matures to full-term before birth. A fleshy umbilicus was visible. Lynn’s heart sank. She knew it was going to be a tremendous challenge to keep the beach quiet in hopes mom might return to nurse him.

It was urgent to keep the public - and dogs - as far away as possible and volunteers out of sight as well. Lynn immediately called the volunteer scheduler for the day. Denise checked the online calendar and began ringing volunteers who had entered time for the day. Wearing blue i.d. vests, they were stationed alongside barricades strung with yellow tape, far down the beach south and north of the lighthouse. Waterfront homeowners were alerted that a newborn pup was on the beach and asked to please keep a low profile - they were happy do anything to help. It was truly a life and death situation for the pup.

Neighbors graciously allowed First Responders Lynn and David access through their property so we could periodically get quick health assessment photos, crouched on their deck (Seal Sitters owes them tremendous thanks). Photos revealed that the pup was 80% lanugo (about 2 weeks premature) and, based on the condition of the umbilicus, was possibly a few days old. The pup was nicknamed Wynken, from the beloved 1889 children’s poem, Wynken, Blynken and Nod.

As darkness fell, volunteers left their posts for home, but returned to duty again early Thursday morning. Wynken was still on shore and the low tide would enable public access around the point. First Responders noticed the pup seemed thinner, but would occasionally stretch and stir. Volunteers tried to keep up hope that mom was still in the area. Wynken returned briefly to the water at high tide and then was back on shore. Once again, until almost 10 pm, volunteers patiently stood vigil at far ends of the beach for a pup they had yet to see.

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Early Friday morning, Wynken was discovered sleeping in the rocks on the opposite side of the lighthouse and was markedly thinner (photo shown). Photos were reviewed by WDFW’s marine mammal biologist. Based on body weight it was obvious that there was no attending female. Most likely, Wynken had not eaten since he was born 3-5 days earlier.

The difficult decision was made to remove the pup from the beach for humane euthanasia before he suffered. Lanugo seal pups are not candidates for rehabilitation in the Northwest, based on their health challenges and high mortality in nature. Therefore, if abandoned, euthanasia is the only option. Since Seal Sitters MMSN has a binding contract with NOAA giving us the authority to respond to marine mammals, we are obligated to abide by NOAA policy and guidelines, as are area rehabilitation facilities.

On Friday afternoon, First Responder Robin drove Wynken to be sedated and then euthanized.

After the ensuing necropsy, we can now say for sure that mom was never present for this pup, since the intestines and stomach were entirely empty. Why the pup was abandoned is purely speculation. 90% of all lanugo pups in the wild are abandoned within a week and die. Pups are born prematurely for a reason (including disease, genital birth defect or high contaminant loads). The seal mom often innately knows the pup, whose lungs and muscles have not fully developed, is not viable to survive. She must then think of her own survival and not waste precious resources. Certainly, there could have been human interference and she was scared off. Or, she could have died giving birth. The answer to this question, we will never know.

What we do know, however, is that our volunteers and First Responders did their best to give Wynken a chance for mom to return if she was in the area.

Seal Sitters cannot thank our volunteers enough for looking after this very special pup. The work we do can be so difficult at times, since even full-term pups have a 50% mortality their first year. Seal Sitters is committed to giving these beautiful little beings peace on our beaches - so they have their best shot at survival on our watch.

This was a very sad day.

Wynken, Blynken, and Nod one night
Sailed off in a wooden shoe —
Sailed on a river of crystal light,
Into a sea of dew.
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