Following four recent incidents in Oregon and Washington in which people illegally picked up harbor seal pups off the beach, leading to the death of two of the animals, NOAA Fisheries is reminding beachgoers to “Share the Shore” with wild marine mammals and give them the space they need to remain wild.
Harbor Seal NOAA photo
The best thing people can do to help marine mammals on the beach is to leave them alone, staying 100 yards away if possible. Disturbing, feeding or attempting to move young seals or other marine mammals is illegal because it can stress the animals, interfere with their natural behavior and cause adult seals to abandon their pups. The Marine Mammal Protection Act protects all marine mammals from harassment.
NOAA Fisheries has developed a new Public Service Announcement emphasizing the need to protect marine mammals. In addition, NOAA Fisheries cautions that getting close enough to take “selfies” with seals can be dangerous for both people and seals, and can seriously disturb animals in the wild.
This is the time of year when harbor seal pups are born in Puget Sound and along the Washington Coast. Nursing pups remain with their mothers for four to six weeks and then begin foraging on their own. Harbor seal pups may haul out in the same place for several days or weeks at a time, but that does not mean they have been abandoned.
Pups that appear to be abandoned may be resting and regulating their body temperature, or may be waiting for their mother.
In two cases cases where people illegally picked up seal pups, the pups were either euthanized or later died. One pup was returned to the same location where it was picked up in the hope it could be reunited with its mother. In a fourth case, the animal was transferred to a rehabilitation facility.
Up to half of the thousands of harbor seal pups born in Oregon and Washington each year may not survive their first year of life. Giving them space on the beach gives them the best chance of survival in the wild. Animals that appear to be injured can be reported to the West Coast Marine Mammal Stranding Network hotline at 1-866-767-6114.
In addition, NOAA has developed an app that makes it easy to report injured or stranded marine wildlife. Called “Dolphin & Whale 911,” it is available from the App Store.
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