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Oregon Officials Say Stay Clear of Seal Pups Found on Coast This Time of Year

Published 05/17/2020 at 5:44 AM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Oregon Officials Say Stay Clear of Seal Pups Found on Coast This Time of Year

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(Newport, Oregon) – Again it’s that time of year on the Oregon coast: seal pups will be popping up on beaches. This spring, with possibly extra crowds for a longer period of time, these little guys need plenty of social distance, say state officials. (All photos courtesy Tiffany Boothe, Seaside Aquarium)

In other words: stay clear of the seal pups.

Young seal pups are at risk from well-meaning people who mistakenly try to rescue them, said marine mammal biologist Jim Rice, who is with Oregon State University and the Hatfield Marine Science Center .

Their birthing season is reaching an apex just as humans are getting back to the beaches. Harbor seal pupping season on the Oregon coast happens from March through June, with the peak in mid-may.

“We’re in the peak of pupping season right now and this past weekend there were several incidents reported of people approaching too closely to seal pups on Oregon beaches,” said Rice. He also coordinates the statewide Oregon Marine Mammal Stranding Network headquartered at OSU's Marine Mammal Institute at the Hatfield in Newport.

Rice said you should not approach them much less touch them. They are not orphaned or abandoned, as many assume. In fact, Mom is usually not far away. Seal pups are frequently left on the beaches to take a rest while mama looks for food. Like any baby, they need a lot of sleep.

You can actually spook the mother from coming back if you approach it, and thus the newborn is more likely to die.

“Newborn pups typically spend several hours each day waiting for their mothers to reunite with them,” Rice said. “Adult female seals spend most of their time in the water, hunting for food, and only come ashore periodically to nurse their pups. But the mothers are wary of people and unlikely to rejoin a pup if there is activity nearby."

Rice and other state experts are concerned that uninformed beach-goers will sometimes interfere, picking up seal pups and taking them away from the beaches - and their mothers. A more common threat is hovering by curious onlookers, which can cause stress to the pups and prevents their mothers from returning to them.

Keith Chandler, manager of Seaside Aquarium, told Oregon Coast Beach Connection he’s even discovered a visitor having taken a seal pup off the beach and put it in their motel bathtub. This is an extreme case, however.

“It's tempting for some people to attempt to ‘rescue’ these seemingly hapless pups,” Rice said. “A pup's best chance for survival is to be left alone. A dependent pup that's taken away from its mother will certainly die.”

Those bumping into seals should remain at least 50 yards away – and keep dogs far from it, on a leash.

“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.”

Although humans can have the best of intentions, they can do much harm to baby seals. Additionally, people who disturb seal pups, even those who are just trying to help, risk being fined under laws intended to protect marine mammals. The Marine Mammal Protection Act prohibits human interaction with seal pups and other marine mammals on the beach.

If you see a live animal on the beach – especially a seal pup – call Oregon State Police at 1-800-452-7888, Rice said. If you’re on the north Oregon coast or the southern part of the Washington coast, you can also call Seaside Aquarium at 503-738-6211. If you observe an incident of seal pup harassment you must call that in.

The Oregon Marine Mammal Stranding Network is an organization comprised of state agencies, universities, and volunteers, working together to investigate the causes of marine mammal strandings, provide for the welfare of live stranded animals and advance public education about marine mammal strandings.

Learn more about the Oregon Marine Mammal Stranding Network online at Oregon Coast Hotels in this area - Where to eat - Maps - Virtual Tours


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