EVERETT — They may look cute and vulnerable, but keep your distance.
Mother harbor seals haul out their pups onto Puget Sound beaches starting this time of year. People sometimes feel tempted to help the young lying alone on the sand. Or just get a close look.
Resist temptation, or you could put the seal’s life at risk.
“The key message is the same every year — for people to please stay back from the animal,” said Susan Morrow, founder of Edmonds Seal Sitters.
Keep at least 100 feet away — 100 yards if possible. Use binoculars to watch.
Whatever you do, do not touch the seals.
It’s common for beach walkers to see seals on the Mukilteo and Edmonds beaches — in no small part because pupping season often coincides with the nicest weather of the year. Pups began appearing in July on Port of Everett property.
“There are a lot more people on the waterfront because the weather’s been so beautiful,” port spokeswoman Lisa Lefeber said. “The visibility of these seal pups has become more prominent.”
Harbor seals, known by the Latin scientific name Phoca vitulina, tend to give birth starting in June.
The pups at birth typically weigh 25 to 30 pounds, Morrow said. Mother seals nurse them for four to six weeks. During that time, the babies store up fat to help them survive the frigid Puget Sound waters.
Then, they’re on their own.
“Those six weeks are absolutely crucial to get their body fat up and to give them a fighting chance,” Morrow said.
Often, moms stash offspring onto the beach while they forage in the water.
People sometimes think the pup is abandoned — but that’s probably not the case.
“It is normal for them to be hauled out this time of year,” said Casey McLean, president of Mukilteo-based Soundside Marinelife Rescue.
They could become abandoned, however, if people spook the mother and make her flee. That could spell disaster for a pup that isn’t strong enough to fend for itself.
“If people approach the baby, it could scare off the mother,” McLean said. “They’re wild animals and their natural response is to look at humans as a threat.”
If you need another reason to steer clear, federal law makes it a crime to interfere with marine mammals.
Seals also can transmit disease, including seal finger, which causes symptoms similar to leprosy.
The best thing you can do is to call one of the hotlines to send someone out to stand guard over the animal. They can summon a marine wildlife expert if there is any real danger.
Morrow’s Seal Sitters is part of the Northwest Marine Mammal Stranding Network run by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Call the Northwest Marine Mammal Stranding Network Hotline (run by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) at 866-767-6114. In Edmonds, call Edmonds Seal Sitters at 425-327-3336.