Oregon Coast Officials: Trying to Help Baby Seals Could Kill Them
(Oregon Coast) – Spring brings that "season of the seal" again to the the Oregon coast, with the return of the adorable seal pups to the beaches. They're cute beyond belief, they make you want to cuddle them – and they look helpless and stranded just sitting there on the sand (photo above by Seaside Aquarium).
But they're not helpless or stranded, and they should be left alone. State officials say trying to help them is the worst possible thing you could do.
Baby harbor seals typically begin showing up in March and April with a peak in May, but they are often found throughout the summer as well.
Oregon State University marine mammal biologist Jim Rice – located at the Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport – said they’ve already started to show up, so spring also brings the annual warning about “do not touch the seal pups” from experts like Rice.
Rice heads up the Marine Mammal Stranding Network, which responds to incidents of animals washing up on beaches, among other tasks.
“Seal pups being left alone on the beach in the spring is perfectly normal,” said Rice. “Newborn pups typically spend several hours each day waiting for their mothers to reunite with them.”
Mom is usually not far away, looking for food in the ocean. The baby seal pup, like all babies, needs to sleep quite a bit, so they saunter onto the sand for a nap.
Seeing this scene is often the biggest misunderstanding on these beaches, as well-meaning visitors attempt to rescue or help out the little critter, not knowing the mother is close.
“But the mothers are wary of people and unlikely to rejoin a pup if there is activity nearby,” Rice said.
Rice said by taking the pup from the beach or lingering too close – in both cases keeping the pup from reuniting with the mother – it almost assures the pup will die. Sticking around too close also causes stress to the pup.
This is why staff from the Marine Mammal Stranding Network jump into action after a call about a baby seal and set up barriers around the resting creature.
Bystanders should stay at least 50 yards away and keep their dogs leashed, Rice said.
“After suckling for about four weeks, weaned pups are abandoned by their mothers, left to fend for themselves,” Rice added. “They will continue to come onto beaches periodically to rest as they grow and learn how to catch their own food.”
Keith Chandler, manager of Seaside Aquarium, runs the chapter of the Marine Mammal Stranding Network that covers the northern part of the coast. He said he hasn’t received any reports from that area yet, but said it was only a matter of time.
Besides not being a good idea, harassing or picking up mammals on the beach is illegal, prohibited by federal law. You could be fined.
Anyone who observes incidents of seal pup harassment, or animals in distress, should call the Oregon State Police at 1-800-452-7888. http://mmi.oregonstate.edu/ommsn
Below, a baby fur seal resting in Gearhart (photo Seaside Aquarium)
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