Vashon-Maury’s Harbor seals did not get the memo that the federal government shut down on September 30. Our marine mammal partners at NOAA Fisheries were immediately furloughed, but Orca Annie’s Seal Nannies remained on duty.
At Chez VHP, we have responded to at least one seal call every day since the shutdown. This is the time of year when recently weaned seals – "weaners" – appear on Island beaches, floats, ramps, and so forth. Multiple callers reported a seal at Point Robinson. The beach near the lighthouse attracts seals, and we must share the shore with our pinniped pals while we navigate this challenging period.
Another report of an injured seal at Dilworth proved to be erroneous, to our relief. Already scarce resources will be quickly overwhelmed during the shutdown should a seal require hands-on intervention or rehab placement. Did I mention that the VHP is doing stranding response with zero funding, as well?
Early in the morning on October 2, a wee visitor resting under our deck at Chez VHP surprised us. From her tiny size, we surmised she was still of nursing age. For the next twelve hours, we watched over Pumpkin the Seal Pup from our window, endeavoring to keep her safe until her mother returned.
A top priority was to avoid an encounter between our dog, Miss Nashoba, and Pumpkin. Nashoba is not threatening, but she is eager to lick everybody she meets. The cool, rainy weather helped. After her morning constitutional, far away from Pumpkin, Nashoba was content to be entertained indoors. We posted a seal sign to alert any two-leggeds walking the beach.
Mid-morning, Pumpkin scooted down closer to the water, where she snoozed for several hours. At one point, an adult seal that I recognized as one of our regulars cruised by, seemingly looking at Pumpkin on shore. The adult casually surfaced with a juicy pink salmon in her mouth. Was that seal Pumpkin’s mother, hunting for her own food?
Throughout the day, I observed our charming guest as she yawned, stretched, and rubbed her face with her fore flipper – so adorable! Seals are extremely flexible; their stretching motions resemble yoga poses. Pumpkin shared her patch of beach with eight handsome Red-breasted Mergansers. A spawned-out pink salmon finned along shore in inches of water.
As the tide came in and the sun faded, Pumpkin scooted up the beach, eventually coming back to the same spot where we found her that morning. Like a concerned daycare owner with one unclaimed child at day’s end, I started to wonder what time Mom would arrive. My speculation was rudely interrupted around 7:15 PM.
I left my observation post for a moment, and two dogs running about unsupervised startled Pumpkin, forcing her into the water. Odin’s voice became hoarse from yelling at them, but they scurried away and up their stairs. These dogs are repeat offenders with the wildlife at the South End. I have previously addressed this topic: dogs roaming loose on the Island threaten our wild neighbors. The dogs are at risk, too, from diseases.
I think I saw Pumpkin the next day, swimming close to shore. The cute little seal looked at me and appeared to listen as I apologized for the reprehensible behavior of negligent humans – humans who allow their dogs to terrorize wildlife and, on the same dysfunctional continuum, humans who concoct a government shutdown that imperils the voiceless and vulnerable.
Please support the work of the Vashon Hydrophone Project (VHP): REPORT LOCAL WHALE SIGHTINGS ASAP TO 463-9041, as well as seal pups and sick, injured, or dead marine mammals on Island beaches. Prompt reports to the VHP expedite vital data collection efforts by Mark Sears and other researchers, and sustain an accurate record of whale sightings for Vashon-Maury initiated three decades ago. Check for updates at Vashonorcas.org and send photos to Orca Annie at Vashonorcas@aol.com