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Hauled Out Seal Pups Nothing To Worry About, But Do Steer Clear

Yellow tape is warning people away from the pocket beach near the Olympic Sculpture Park on Seattle’s waterfront. But it’s not a crime scene. The beach was closed to protect a young harbor seal that had hauled out. It’s not uncommon this time of year. 

Harbor seal pups are born in the summer and early fall in the Puget Sound region. And after they’re weaned, they’re on their own and particularly vulnerable for about six months. 

“When they’re young, they don’t have what’s called an escape response or a wariness response," said Rachel Mayer, coordinator for Sno-King Marine Mammal Response (SKMMR.)  It’s part of a network of volunteer organizations that work with the federal government to protect wildlife, including young harbor seals.   

“They don’t recognize that one area might be more or less safe than another area, so that means they may come ashore somewhere like the Sculpture Park or Golden Gardens or Richmond Beach – you know, somewhere where there’s a lot of activity. When they’re older, they would chose somewhere much quieter and a bit more protected to come out to rest," Mayer said. 

Mayer says harbor seals spend nearly 50 percent of their time hauled out on shore to warm up or cool down. And although they may seem like they need help, it’s not safe to get near them. They have sharp teeth, can carry disease or infection and are best left alone.

They are protected under the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 and feeding them is considered harassment.  If you see one and are concerned, there’s a hotline you can call to notify trained volunteers.

The population of harbor seals for the Puget Sound area is more than 20,000; they are the most common marine mammal seen in the Seattle-Puget Sound area.

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment beat for KNKX, where she has worked since 1999. From 2000-2012, she covered the business and labor beat. Bellamy has a deep interest in Indigenous affairs and the Salish Sea. She has a masters in journalism from Columbia University.
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