EVERETT — Jetty Island is a seal paradise.
Beaches to laze on, water to swim in, lots of fish to eat.
They’ll make regular appearances at the 10th Street Boat Launch, too, where they hang out on the docks.
Now, two more harbor seals call the man-made, two-mile island home. In September, a crew with PAWS Wildlife Center took a boat out to release two healed seal pups.
Harbor seals are the most common marine mammal in Washington. That means they have plenty of contact with humans. And they’re more graceful in the water than they are the land, so they’re vulnerable to all the dangers of the outside world when they’re on a beach. Sometimes people will disturb the seals, causing the mother to abandon her pups. According to Seal Sitters, a volunteer group dedicated to protecting marine mammals, harbor seal mothers “are very shy and will not return ashore for offspring if they feel it is not safe.” Always observe from a distance, the group says — at least a hundred yards.
“The majority of seals that come into our care is human-caused,” PAWS wildlife naturalist Jeff Brown said.
He didn’t know if that was the case with these two, who were both found at nearby beaches in July.
Seal No. 2980 was found on a Camano Island beach. He arrived to the PAWS facility on July 11, a couple weeks old. He was dehydrated and emaciated, with an injured cornea.
No. 3319 was believed to be just four days old when she was found on a beach at Lummi Island. She was thin and had scrapes on her face, but was otherwise in good shape when she arrived to PAWS on July 29.
For both the pups, no mother was in sight for at least three days.
They spent the summer together at the PAWS facility in Lynnwood, relaxing in the bottom of the pool and learning how to eat and catch fish.
They healed and put on weight quickly. The boy seal will always have cloudiness in his eye, but he should see well enough to survive in the wild, according to PAWS. Brown said seals with one eye have similar survival rates to those with two.
On Sept. 24, when they weighed at least 50 pounds, it was time to release them.
Husband and wife Mike and Shirley Allert drove the boat. They’re civilian volunteers with the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary and volunteers with PAWS.
“Coast Guard does everything Auxiliary does, except law enforcement,” Mike Allert said, with a hint of pride.
Well, there may be one thing the Allerts do that the U.S. Coast Guard doesn’t: For about a decade now they have been transporting baby seals, ever since a PAWS employee took a boating safety class with them and asked if they’d be willing to volunteer. They take one or two seals out each year, usually to Jetty Island or a bit up the Snohomish River. Their boat is moored at Naval Station Everett, so it’s a short trip.
They picked up the seals at the 10th Street Boat Launch, along with Brown, the naturalist. PAWS CEO Heidi Wills was there, too, along with State Rep. Strom Peterson, D-Edmonds.
When a reporter asked Mike Allert if he ever imagined he’d be moving baby seals with his boat, he laughed.
“No,” he said. “Did not.”
But it has been worth it, he said. There are three reasons why they do it, Mike Allert said.
First, it’s fun. Second, they like to help out.
And third: “One of the reasons God lets us have neat stuff is to share,” he said.
So the Allerts are sharing: their time, their boat, their company and — at least with a Herald reporter — a cup of coffee.
On the north end of Jetty Island, Brown readied the crates. He set up a GoPro camera and his phone to take video of the release, and held another camera at the ready.
He opened the grate for the first seal. No. 3319 waddled her way to the edge of the boat. She peeked around. She looked one way, then the other, like a child crossing the street.
Then, she bobbed forward and slid into the water.
No. 2980 stayed in his crate a little longer, perhaps confused by his newfound freedom. He was used to his little pool, not the great expanse of Puget Sound, after all.
He hesitated, his big black eyes swinging to the left and to the right.
But he’d wait only so long. He decided it was go-time. His flippers became two whirlwinds as he flopped his way into the sea.
They wandered in different directions. Brown wasn’t sure if they would stick together. Peterson, the state representative, hoped he’d see them high five, but they didn’t.
If they do part ways for good, they should be fine, Brown said. While harbor seals haul out onto land in groups for protection from predators, they tend to hunt on their own.
How to help
Federal law prohibits the harassment of seals by touching, feeding or moving them. To report a dead, injured or stranded seal, call the NOAA Marine Mammal Stranding Network hotline at 866-767-6114, or visit www.sealsitters.org.