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Originally published Wednesday, September 21, 2011 at 2:45 PM

Seal pups coming ashore — look, but don't touch

Seal pups are coming ashore on Alki Beach and other Puget Sound beaches this pupping season. They don't need your help — they need you and your dog to stay away.

Seattle Times staff reporter

To report a seal pup

For a seal (or other marine mammals) spotted from Alki Beach north to Kayak Point in Snohomish County, call Seal Sitters at 206-905-7325 (SEAL). Elsewhere, call the NOAA stranding hotline at 1-800-853-1964. Learn more about Seal Sitters and harbor seals, and see more photos of pups at sealsitters.org.
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A high tide of seal pups is coming ashore on Alki Beach this pupping season, irresistibly cute, wiggling, snoozing and yawning on the rocks, the beach, the steps — everywhere and anywhere.

"You just want to pick them up and snuggle them!" said cyclist Jason Avinger, stopping his bike on the sidewalk at Alki to have a look at what was happening on the beach, as people oohed and ahhhed from behind a yellow tape.

A seal pup was napping on the sand, cuddled up to the sun-warmed rocks of a breakwater, awakening to inch up the beach only when the rising tide tickled its flippers. Yawning was the pup's most vigorous activity, showing tiny white teeth and a bright pink mouth.

The pup was the seventh Robin Lindsey has seen this week. She's with the local group Seal Sitters, and she and other volunteers respond to calls of sightings of pups on the beach, putting up yellow tape to keep people away, and standing watch until the pups return to the water. If the pup is injured or sick, a Seal Sitter volunteer will seek help.

But more than likely, this pup will do what most of them do: Nap, warm up and hang out while its mother fishes offshore. Or if it's already weaned, the pup is probably just gathering strength before heading off again on its own. The last thing it needs is a person or a dog to bother it.

It's illegal to touch or harass a marine mammal.

But in an urban shoreline, with waterfront property owners, divers, kayakers, water taxis, picnickers, runners and more, it's a challenge for small pups just trying to get a little rest.

Some people think they are doing a lone pup a favor by "helping" it, but as pleading as their big-eyed expression may appear, the right thing to do is leave pups alone.

Approaching the pup could scare off its mother, or at the very least, force an animal trying to rest back into the water. Pups in the process of being weaned need to save every calorie they can.

Seals' activities at night vary. They may haul and sleep — docks are popular. Or they may feed if there is plentiful prey to take advantage of, such as squid, said Dyanna Lambourn, marine-mammal biologist with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The Seal Sitters have had a busy season, Lindsey noted. Just since Aug. 8, they have responded to 40 calls of pups on the beach, involving 22 individual seals. Some come up on the beach day after day, until they are ready to move on to another spot in Puget Sound.

The pupping season begins in late June and lasts through September.

"It's kind of neat, living in the city, and still being able to see something like this," said David Hutchinson, another Seal Sitters volunteer. He set up a spotting scope on the sidewalk for curious onlookers to enjoy the pup from afar.

Harbor seals are native to Puget Sound, and they don't migrate. Born here, these pups will be our neighbors for life.

"Our motto is, 'Share the shore,' " Lindsey said.

Lynda V. Mapes: 206-464-2736 or lmapes@seattletimes.com

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