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Baby Seals Are Cute, Yes, but Taking One Home is Not

June 25, 2008

BELLINGHAM, WASH._ Repeat after me: Wild baby seals should not be “rescued” off some beach and taken to your home.

Not even when they look so cute they give you a big case of the “aaaaawwwws.” Not even if you see them lying on a beach with their mothers nowhere in sight and you’re convinced those adorable blobs of helplessness need rescuing. Not even after you look at this photo and think: “Is there anything in the world cuter than a baby seal and a wiener dog living in harmony?”

Resist the urge, my friends. Stay away and you’ll make people like wildlife biologist Mariann Carrasco much happier even as she acknowledges that we just seem to have that “rescue” response when we see helpless things alone.

“It’s like the baby deer hiding in the brush thing,” she says.

Carrasco recalls the case last June of a man plucking a week-old male harbor seal from the beach near his home after he thought it had been abandoned.

The man brought the pup to his house, where it then cavorted with his 1-year-old dachshund, Rudy. Not so happy were wildlife officials and others who had the task of returning the animal into the wild after it had come in touch with humans _ and one dog.

Carrasco also is the coordinator of the Whatcom County (Wash.) Marine Mammal Stranding Network, and she’s busy this time of year reminding the public to steer clear of harbor seal pups they stumble upon during beachwalks.

You may think something is amiss because a pup is alone when it’s just the nature of harbor seals.

“In fact, there’s nothing wrong at all,” Carrasco says.

Harbor seals are born in this area starting in June and continuing into August. Most momma seals give birth in places that are protected but also may do so in any spot where there is easy access to water, hence the wideopen beach you might be walking upon.

Here are other things you should know about harbor seals and the best ways to deal with pups that are hanging out alone on shorelines:

_After giving birth, the female will go in search of food _ leaving her pup on the beach during the day and coming back at night to feed it.

_Nursing seal pups stay with their mothers for four to six weeks, according to National Marine Fisheries Service. Approaching a seal pup may frighten away its mother. If human interference continues, the mother may give up and leave her pup. Remain at least 100 yards away and keep dogs away and leashed. Seals may bite or carry diseases.

_Plus, disturbing them is a violation of the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act, one that brings with it jail time and a fine of as much as $20,000.

_Don’t pour water on pups or cover them. Harbor seals haul themselves out of the water several times each day to regulate their body temperature, relax, socialize with each other and sleep.

_A female harbor seal will give birth to one pup, in the spring. She’ll haul out of the water during low tide to give birth on sandbars, beaches or reefs. The babies can swim within an hour of being born. A pup’s first year is tough, as 50 percent of them will die.

_Tell others if pups are present and remind them to stay away. Report harassment, injuries and abandonment. If the mother has not returned in 48 hours, the pup could need help.

As for the seal pup that was plucked from the Whatcom County beach on June 19, he was taken to Wolf Hollow wildlife rehabilitation center in Friday Harbor.

The staff named him Nilas. The pup weighed a thin but healthy 17 pounds when he arrived. He had grown to 53 pounds and had learned how to catch his own fish when he was released into the east side of San Juan Island, Wash. on Sept. 8, along with two other rescued pups that were about the same age.

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(c) 2008, The Bellingham (Wash.) Herald.

Visit The Bellingham Herald on the World Wide Web at http://www.bellinghamherald.com/

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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