Puget Sound seal pup feared starving finds meal

SEATTLE —

It looks like “let it be” was good advice for a harbor seal pup that cried for days after apparently being left alone on a south Puget Sound beach.

A comparison of photos taken Tuesday and Friday by a photographer for The Olympian shows the pup is likely recently weaned, is in good condition and was seen Friday nursing from another harbor seal that was accompanied by a younger pup, said Jessie Huggins, stranding coordinator for Cascadia Research, a nonprofit marine mammal research organization.

Learning to catch its own food is a stressful time for a young seal and this approximately 4-week-old youngster likely was unhappy about its weaning, Huggins said.

A National Marine Fisheries Service official said earlier that “rescuing” the pup would be unnatural and could do more harm than good.

Touching the pup would also be illegal, NMFS spokesman Brian Gorman said.

Reached by phone late Friday afternoon, he agreed with Huggins’ assessment.

“It really should be a little bit more independent,” Gorman said of the young seal. “But I think things will turn out fine in a week or two … It will get in the water and start behaving like a normal harbor seal.”

A woman with a waterfront home on south Puget Sound about 5 miles north of Olympia has been agonizing for a week over the pup that had been alone and crying.

From her home, Brandy Garcia can see a couple of dozen pups who haul out on a former railroad trestle on Henderson Inlet. She saw other mothers feed their pups, but they didn’t feed this one.

Garcia sat in her yard Friday and watched the young pup nuzzle and nurse with the adoptive mother and her pup.

“This whole process of starting this endeavor was to not let this pup suffer,” Garcia told The Olympian. “I’m thrilled he has found comfort.”

Garcia has been watching the pup since last weekend when its cries kept her awake. All the wildlife agencies and rescue centers she contacted told her to let nature take its course.

Susanne Beauregard, director of Thurston County Animal Services, told The Olympian on Thursday her agency could help. But that was before she knew the pup was in the middle of a breeding colony.

“You cannot approach an active birthing area in a watercraft without causing a great deal more harm to the other seals,” Beauregard said Friday.

When seal moms leave their babies at weaning time, that’s it, Huggins said. “There’s no lifelong bond with their young.”

The young seal appears “absolutely normal,” with good size and “a nice healthy weight,” Huggins said.

Weaned pups typically lose weight learning to catch their own food, then gain it all back, she said.

It’s normal for about half the 3,000 to 5,000 harbor seals born in Puget Sound to die before they are a year old, Gorman said earlier.

Most seal pup deaths are not witnessed, just as people don’t usually see “fawns or baby rabbits or baby robins die,” he said.

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