Fisheries Officials Say To Leave Seals Alone

Jul 26, 2013

In the Olympia area, a woman reported a weeks-old harbor seal pup is on a railroad trestle on the Woodard Bay beach. Its mother was gone and it was crying.

The woman told The Olympian newspaper she’s afraid the pup is dying. But Fisheries officials are adamant: leave it alone.

According to NOAA spokesperson Brian Gorman, about 3,000 to 5,000 seal pups are born in the Puget Sound area every year. The pups are placed on shore and the mothers hit the water to forage for fish so they can nurse.

Gorman explained leaving pups alone is a weaning trick the mothers use to get their pups back into the water. “While it’s very hard to see a seal pup and think it’s been abandoned by its mother, I think people need to step back a little and think that this is what has been going on for thousands of years,” said Gorman. “It’s how harbor seals have evolved and how their breeding strategy works."

Of those thousands of seal pups born every year, Gorman said that only about half actually survive their first year. However, he is adamant that attempts to rescue an abandoned seal can be counterproductive.

“The worst thing you can do is to come up to the pup and interact with it because if the mother is off-shore and she sees it, she won’t come ashore and take care of her baby,” Gorman explained. “She’s going to leave it alone, especially if it doesn’t move. She may be in fact nursing this pup in the evening because she sees people in the daytime.”

Gorman added that seal pups almost never survive when they are rescued. The good news is that Fisheries officials say the Puget Sound harbor seal population is thriving.