As the local harbor seal population enters its annual pupping season, experts urge beachgoers to steer clear of baby seals – even if they appear abandoned.
Mother seals give birth to one pup at a time and often leave their newborns on an empty shoreline while they forage for food for up to 24 hours, according to NOAA’s guidelines on viewing marine life.
The beach in the early morning looks much different than it does around noon, and if a mother seal returns to see on-lookers crowding her baby, she will not approach land, leaving the pup vulnerable to real abandonment.
Victoria Souze has been part of the Whatcom Marine Mammal Stranding Network since 2007, when the volunteer-based organization started. She and about 20 active volunteers respond to deceased and stranded sea mammals along almost 200 miles of coastline.
Souze said she’s seen everything from people taking photos with seal pups to putting them on paddleboards. Educating the public on the importance of leaving pups alone is a constant battle, she said.
The high volume of tourists drawn to local beaches means new people are hitting the shores every day, Souze said, adding the Fourth of July is the worst week of the season for seal abandonment.
The network previously responded to five abandoned pups on the holiday.
“We don’t want to send pups to rehab,” Souze said. “Wildlife belongs in the wild.”
The network falls under NOAA jurisdiction and is under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Federal law requires marine mammal viewing to occur from a distance of at least 100 yards.
Souze urges anyone who sees a pup on shore to call the network’s hotline at 360/966-8845. The network will send responders to keep people away from the seal pup.
“My one thing is: Leave seal pups alone. Exclamation mark, exclamation mark,” she said.
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