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It's summer, prepare for the pups; best advice, don't touch | Guest Column
— Submitted by the Friday Harbor Whale Museum
Summer has arrived… and that means harbor seal pups.
If you have spent any time in the San Juan Islands, you have probably noticed that we have a lot of harbor seals. In fact, the Salish Sea probably has the most dense harbor seal population in the world. They are also the only pinnipeds that can be found here year-round.
Every June through August, nearly 2,000 new seal pups are born around the islands. Although it can be thrilling to see these adorable, large-eyed youngsters sunning on the beach or bobbing in the water next to their mothers, it is important to make sure that our bustling human population does not hinder the seals’ well-being.
Harbor seal pups found alone on beaches generate a lot of concern from local residents, as well as visitors. How can you help?
The best thing to do is to give it space. Zero human interference actually maximizes the pup’s chances for survival.
If you come across a pup this season, please follow these simple rules:
— Do not touch or move it
— Do not feed it
— Do not pour water on it
— Do not try to drive it back into the water… Do keep people and dogs at least 100 yards away (it’s the law!) and do call the stranding hotline: 1-800-562-8832
Another way you can help is to make sure you are not polluting, and pick up trash when you see it; one of last season’s harbor seal pups was recently sighted with a plastic packaging band digging into its skin. Something as simple as cutting through plastic loops before throwing them away can save lives.
Unfortunately, even without human interference, not all of this summer’s pups will survive to be adults. The natural mortality rate for harbor seal pups is very high. The harbor seal population in the San Juan Islands has not grown or decreased for almost a decade.
This doesn’t leave a lot of room for new seals. It’s hard to think about seal pups dying, but they do provide food and nourishment for dozens of other local animals, from bald eagles to sea stars to crabs. Please help us respect these natural cycles for the benefit of the entire Salish Sea ecosystem.
Report all stranded marine mammals (dead or alive) to the San Juan County Marine Mammal Stranding Network (SJCMMSN): 1-800-562-8832