Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The Wailing Seal

Back in November, I wrote about my first (and cutest) stranding response. Since then, It has been a quiet couple of months; a dead seal here, a dead whale there. Well … maybe not quiet. Now summer has arrived, and with warm weather comes Harbor Seal pupping season. That means cute baby seals will be littering our beaches to rest. I have already had a few calls about sleeping seals, but one call is worth mentioning.

Two weeks ago, I received a call about a young seal pup on a busy dock in Quilcene. After viewing photos sent by the caller, I was able to identify it as a lanugo pup. A lanugo pup is a premature seal pup; they have a silvery coat that is normally shed within the womb before birth. Sadly, because they are premature and thus underdeveloped, they do not normally survive. But like all other seals, the mother temporarily left it on shore while it went to forage.

A concerned citizen called in, and as I was talking to him, I could hear the pup in the background crying out for its mom. I would have raced down there and sat with the animal if I wasn’t backup for the exhibits that day. Luckily I have an entire database of volunteers who are trained to respond to calls like this one. I sent one of those volunteers to the marina to monitor the seal and educate anyone curious about the wailing animal. I only intended for the volunteer to be there for an hour, but she insisted on staying. She took five hours out of her Saturday to sit with the seal.

Eventually the mother did return, and she and her pup swam off together. I am very happy that we were able to get a volunteer to the beach to make sure no one interacted with the seal. Each time I interact with the Marine Mammal Stranding volunteers I am reminded how dedicated they are, not only to the health of the seals, but to the stranding network as well.

As mentioned in the first blog post, no matter how cute a seal may be, no matter how much your heart melts, please give them space. Pups may be seen resting on the shore in the same area for several days; this is a natural behavior and does not mean they are abandoned. Not only are these animals protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act, but they can become aggressive if approached. Please Share the Shore — stay back 100 yards if possible, keep your dogs on a leash, and if the animal is injured, call our hotline at 360-385-5582 ext. 103.

In the past, the Marine Mammal Stranding Network Hotline and training for the team of Marine Science Center volunteer responders has been funded by a highly competitive grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Unfortunately, funds are very limited and this year our grant was not renewed. We urgently need your help to protect the future of our marine mammals in the Salish Sea. Please donate today to help us raise $10,000 for the Marine Mammal Stranding Network by August 31.

KATIE CONROY is the Marine Mammal Stranding Educator and an AmeriCorps member serving at the Port Townsend Marine Science Center.

Photos 1 & 2 by William Clark | Photo 3 by Carolyn Avery

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