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We’re here to help, when time is right | Guest Column
By Julie Duke
Special to the Journal
We were recently asked by a concerned private citizen to reach out to the community to explain what to expect from Wolf Hollow when someone calls us to report a stranded Harbor Seal pup.
We are more than happy to do so and we hope this message will help everyone understand the complexities of the situation.
Harbor Seals, being marine mammals, come under the authority of the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), and are covered by the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which makes it a federal offense to touch, harass, injure or feed any marine mammal, including Harbor Seal pups.
Wolf Hollow staff and volunteers have no more authority to rescue a seal pup than has any member of the public. We are not permitted to go out and check on the pup, or bring it to the center for care.
In San Juan County the only people who can respond to a stranded seal pup are county, state or federal government officials, such as rangers within their parks, and the San Juan County Marine Mammal Stranding Network.
The Stranding Network is a group of local volunteers, coordinated through the Whale Museum, which is authorized by NMFS to investigate reports of live and dead stranded marine mammals, including seal pups, within the county. They work under strict guidelines set by NMFS.
Once a seal pup has been brought to Wolf Hollow we can rehabilitate it and, when it is strong and old enough to survive on its own, release it back into the wild. We currently have four such seal pups in our care.
If you see a seal pup on its own on the shore and it appears to be injured or weak, please don’t touch it, move it or try to get it into the water. Keep people and dogs away from the pup and call The Marine Mammal Hotline: 1-800-562-8832 and leave a message. This hotline is monitored by the Stranding Network Coordinators who will return your call.
If you call Wolf Hollow directly, all we can do is record the details of the pup’s location and condition and your name and phone number. We then pass this information on to the Stranding Network coordinators, who will take it from there.
I hope this helps to explain why we at Wolf Hollow can’t respond to calls about seal pups in the same way we do to other wildlife calls. If you see an injured hawk, or come across a thin, weak raccoon kit, you can call Wolf Hollow and our U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife rehab licenses will allow our staff members or trained volunteers to come out to assess the animal and the situation, decide if it needs care, and transport it to Wolf Hollow. Unfortunately this is not the case with seal pups, and though we understand the urgency of your call, there is absolutely nothing we can do until the seal pups are brought to us by the proper authorities.
— Editor’s note: Julie Duke is executive director of Wolf Hollow Wildlife Rehabilitation Center