Seal-pup season on West Seattle shores: What you need to know

(Photo by Robin Lindsey)

With the weather heating up, more people will be out on the beach this week – and that’s one reason why Seal Sitters Marine Stranding Network wants you to know that seal-pup season has begun in our area and the rest of south Puget Sound:

Although Seal Sitters has yet to receive a report of a newborn or newly weaned pup on West Seattle beaches this summer, there have been pups reported onshore in all directions around us. It is only a matter of time – possibly just days – until our first pup of the season shows up here, needing protection from disturbance. Seals come ashore to rest and warm up, behavior that is critical for their survival.

For those of you new to Puget Sound, harbor seal pups are born in our area from late June through the first week of September. After being weaned at 4-6 weeks old, these young pups strike off on their own, leaving the safety of rookeries, and often end up traveling to urban beaches, unaware of the inherent dangers they face there. It is normal to see a weaned seal pup alone on the beach.

We have also had a number of births over the years in West Seattle. Most often, that is not a terribly good scenario, since harbor seal moms are shy and can easily be scared away from their young; mom may not return for her pup if she perceives a threat from people and dogs nearby.

It is an extreme challenge to keep pups safe on crowded beaches and busy shoreline. If you see a seal pup onshore, please stay back, observe from a distance and call Seal Sitters hotline @ 206-905-SEAL (7325).

Please be alert when you are walking the beach. Due to the camouflage of its spotted coat, a tiny seal pup can look like a bleached log or rock onshore. They often come ashore at high tide and nestle up against the woody debris on the beach, making them difficult to see until you are upon them. The 2010 photo of seal pup Pebbles [above], tucked under a log near the Water Taxi landing, shows how effectively they blend into the environment. Seal Sitters volunteers protected Pebbles 12+ hours a day for 15 consecutive days, as the pup swam ashore just before sunrise each morning and spent the day stretching and snoozing until flop-hopping back into the waters of Elliott Bay after dark.

A member of NOAA’s West Coast Marine Mammal Stranding Network, Seal Sitters MMSN responds to all reports of marine mammals, both dead and alive, in West Seattle from Brace Point through the Duwamish River. Seal Sitters, an all-volunteer group, is celebrating a decade of service protecting marine life.

For more information about seal pupping season and protocol around harbor seal rookeries, please go here.

And you can find in-depth information about marine mammals and NOAA’s stranding network on Seal Sitters’ website.

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