OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

Public Urged to Restrain from Touching Seal Pups

03/16/2007

NEWPORT, Ore. – Seal pups are beginning to appear on the beaches of Oregon and an Oregon State University marine mammal biologist is urging the public to restrain from trying to “rescue” them.

During this time of year, seal pups are frequently discovered alone on the beach, and “this is perfectly normal,” said Jim Rice, coordinator of the statewide Oregon Marine Mammal Stranding Network headquartered at OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center. Newborn pups typically spend several hours each day waiting for the mothers, he pointed out.

“Adult female seals spend most of their time in the water, hunting for food, and only come ashore periodically to nurse their pups,” Rice said. “But the mothers are shy and unlikely to rejoin a pup if there is activity nearby.

“After suckling for 4-6 weeks, weaned pups are left to fend for themselves,” added Rice, who is part of OSU’s Marine Mammal Institute. “They frequently come ashore to rest while learning how to catch their own food.”

In past worst-case scenarios, concerned beach-goers have picked up seal pups and taken them away from the beaches – and their mothers. Even hovering near the pups could prevent their mothers from returning. Without public interference, Rice said, most seal pups will survive their first few months of life, even when left alone for hours at a time on the beach.

“It’s tempting for the public to ‘rescue’ these pups,” Rice pointed out, “but their best chance for survival is to be left alone.”

It’s also a law, Rice pointed out. Federal law prohibits interference with seal pups and other marine mammals on the beach. Bystanders should stay at least 50 yards away and keep their dogs leashed.

Anyone who observes incidents of seal pup harassment, or animals in distress, should call the Oregon State Police at 1-800-452-7888, Rice said.

The Oregon Marine Mammal Stranding Network is an organization comprised of state and federal agencies, universities and volunteers, working together for the well-being of stranded marine mammals, public safety, scientific research and education.