Monday, September 13, 2010

Seal pup season coming to a close

We all have our daily routine when arriving at the office, sometimes it's making the coffee, often times it's checking email, or tweeting. For PTMSC staff and volunteers, one of the first things on the "to do" list each morning for staff is checking the East Jefferson County Marine Mammal Stranding Network (EJCMMSN) hotline. The network's purpose is to collect data on dead, stranded, or abandoned marine mammals at selected Washington State beaches. While the network is active year round, an influx of calls occur in the month of August during peak harbor seal birthing season. 

Seal pups are often left alone on beaches for hours while their mothers forage for food. A common misconception is that the marine mammal is stranded. In fact it is not, this is normal activity for harbor seals and the mother will often leave the pup there for up to 48 hours before returning to retrieve the pup.

The stranding network takes calls for occurances such as these and sends volunteers to check on the pups to ensure that the pup is not injured or in distress. Volunteers will mark off space around the pup and often "pup sit," especially in heavily populated areas, in order to keep curious dogs and humans at a safe distance while the mother seal is absent. While the seal pups are adorable and the first instinct is to touch them, it is important to realize that it is indeed a wild animal and could actually do harm. Giving the animal plenty of space and calling the network to make it aware of this pup is important in the process of the pup safely returning to the water with its mother.

In addition to the above seal calls, the network also receives calls of stranded or dead marine mammals such as porpoise, whales, dolphins, sea lions, etc. The stranding network responds to these calls and collects data for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to establish a baseline of information on marine mammal communities and monitoring their health. For more information on the stranding network, visit NOAA's webstite: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/health/networks.htm.

Claudia Padilla, Summer/Fall Intern

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