Oregon Coast Experts Warn to Stay Away from Seals, Sea Lions on Beaches
(Oregon Coast) – Right about now, the Oregon coast sees not just a huge jump in visitors to the beach but also baby seals and molting elephant seals (photos courtesy Seaside Aquarium).
With all this mix of species along the shores, authorities want to again remind people to stay away from any baby seal they see on the beach, or any seal or sea lion that is hanging around – especially if they look like they’re in pain.
Keith Chandler, manager of Seaside Aquarium, is part of the north coast group from the Marine Mammal Stranding Network which responds to these stranded animals. He urges people to stay away from both situations – molting seals and baby harbor seals – no matter how heart-wrenching or adorable the scene.
Trying to interfere with either situation can just cause the animal harm.
When it comes to elephant seals molting, it is a painful process, but doing anything can only make it worse.
“Notify the authorities and we’ll try to get up signs out there,” Chandler said. “They’re just going through their natural process. Leave seal pups alone so their mommas can get back to them.”
Staff at the aquarium deal with such strandings from southern Washington into north coast areas like Astoria, Warrenton, Seaside, Cannon Beach, Manzanita and Rockaway Beach. Chandler said they’ve had ten seal pup so far in the last month, and a couple of molting seals.
An elephant seal (Mirounga Angustirostris) is typified by the protruding, wrinkled snout, and usually lives off the California coast, with some population concentration off the southern Oregon coast.
When an elephant seal is molting it’s slowly shedding its old coat and growing a new one. The process often leaves sores, patches of bare skin, and a distinct odor. When molting, the seals will spend a lot of time up on rocks or dry land. The process can take anywhere from a couple of weeks to months.
Seal pups are often left alone for a few hours a day as mom goes to get food. Mom is usually not far away. 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.
However, the mothers are wary of people and unlikely to rejoin a pup if there is activity nearby. 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.
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