Seal Sitters updates: ‘Year of the Seal,’ and a bittersweet find

(Seal Sitters photos by David Hutchinson)
From Robin Lindsey @ Seal Sitters:

Every year, Seal Sitters’ hotline (206-905-7325) receives hundreds of calls. Most are local, but many others come from surrounding areas of Puget Sound. As part of NOAA’s Marine Mammal Stranding Network, Seal Sitters responds to all reports of marine mammals on the beaches of West Seattle – both live and dead. Usually, the calls concern vulnerable harbor seal pups resting and warming up on shore. However, with a 50% mortality rate their first year, Seal Sitters deals with many dead pups annually.

Saturday afternoon, we responded to our first mortality of 2013. The hotline received a report of a “sick” pup at Lowman Beach Park, being watched over by a young girl until volunteers could arrive. Responders discovered that the pup was in fact dead. As is the norm in these cases, the location was noted, photo ID taken, a brief visual examination was made, and the length was recorded (35 ½ inches).

Because the dead pup was in such good condition and a prime candidate for necropsy, a call was made to WDFW Marine Mammal Investigations. The pup was bagged and removed from the beach. Transport will be made to the WDFW lab in Lakewood, in hopes that the cause of death can be determined. Thanks to Schmitz Park Elementary student Lunabella who called the hotline.

Seal Sitters recently received an award from Seattle’s Department of Neighborhoods matching fund program to implement our project for 2013, “Year of the Seal.” To receive and expend these funds, our volunteers are required to put in an equivalent number of matching hours of work on the educational project, culminating with the installation at Alki Beach of a bronze sculpture depicting a harbor seal mom and pup. The most numerous marine mammals in Puget Sound, harbor seals are the most likely to be encountered on our beaches, as they spend about half of their lives on shore. Harbor seals do not migrate. Seals born in our area stay year-round their entire lives. For this reason, they are considered to be an “indicator species” of the health of our waters. Throughout the year, Seal Sitters will be placing an emphasis on educational outreach to inform local school children and the public about important issues regarding our fragile marine ecosystem.

In the coming months, public meetings co-sponsored by Seattle Parks & Recreation, will be held to present our Year of the Seal sculpture concept and site location and will welcome your input. Stay tuned for further details. Read more about the project on the Seal Sitters website.

If you are interested in getting a look at some of our local pinnipeds, you might visit Jack Block Park. Quite a number of harbor seals have been hauling out there since mid-December.

(That’s where the top photo was taken.)

2 Replies to "Seal Sitters updates: 'Year of the Seal,' and a bittersweet find"

  • Robin January 21, 2013 (6:37 am)

    I would like to clarify that 50% mortality is considered the norm for harbor seal pups their first year, including the challenging winter months when many of them develop respiratory and viral issues. However, in West Seattle we have been lucky that our death ratio in responses has not approached such a high percentage. That is, until this past pupping season when, even as of late October, our mortality rate was 44% with a significantly higher number than usual (in West Seattle) of severely underweight pups. We don’t know if it was lack of food source, illness or contaminants, such as flame retardants – or perhaps a combination of all.

    Thankfully, we had a late burst at the end of the year with quite a number of chubbier pups, along with some still-struggling ones. It is very, very difficult for weaned pups to survive and Seal Sitters so appreciates the help of the public in protecting them.

  • Chris W January 21, 2013 (11:52 am)

    Thank you for all you do, Robin.

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