A harbor seal pup that appeared to be abandoned in Henderson Inlet has found comfort from an adoptive mother. The 4-week-old pup was seen Friday afternoon nursing with a mother seal who was also nursing her 1- to 2-week-old infant.
Its a happy ending, said Jessie Huggins of the Cascadia Research, which had earlier in the day told Thurston County Animal Services to halt its attempt to rescue the pup. Im really glad it turned out that way, she said.
The pup is old enough to have been weaned from his mother and should be hunting for food on his own, Huggins said after confirming from photos which pup had been the one of concern. There was confusion about the age of the seal after The Olympian photo from Tuesday showed a weaned pup, while a television report on Thursday showed a much younger, nursing infant.
Weaned seal pups face a tough time surviving the transition from mothers milk to hunting fish and fending for themselves, Huggins said. Theyre hungry and theyre on their own.
While the situation has changed for the young seal pup, the stance of the National Marine Fisheries Service has not. The organizations spokesman on Friday directed would-be rescuers to leave the seal alone. Even if it were a nursing pup stranded in the haul-out site, it would have been left to natures outcome.
Haul-out sites are areas where large populations of mother harbor seals give birth, bond, and raise their young out of the water. In this case, the haul-out site is the remains of an old railroad trestle.
We all hate to walk away. Its terribly difficult. But we do not respond at haul-out sites because of the high risk of disturbance, Huggins said. In order to save the one, we might do more damage to the others.
Huggins had said earlier in the week that the haul-out area was the best place for an abandoned pup to be, surrounded by nursing mothers and babies. It gives an orphaned seal the best chance to be cared for by another mother, she said.
Brandy Garcia, who lives just 50 yards from the railroad trestle, sat in her yard Friday and watched the young pup nuzzle and nurse with the adoptive mother and her pup.
This whole process of starting this endeavor was to not let this pup suffer, Garcia said. Im thrilled he has found comfort.
Garcia said that in her three years watching the pupping season, she had never seen a young seal cry for days, or be alone for a week. The cries of the young pup were non-stop the first three days as it frantically swam back and forth looking for its mother, Garcia said.
As a mother of two, she couldnt help but feel concern for the crying pup.
You know that sound a baby makes when its mother cant ignore it? Thats what he was doing, Garcia said.
By Tuesday the crying had stopped, and the pup was appearing more lethargic. The pups attempts to nurse on other mother seals were turned away. Garcia was concerned the pup was starving to death.
She began making calls to more than a dozen organizations and rescue centers, all of which said they were unable to help because of strict guidelines of the National Marine Mammal Protection Act. Under the guidelines, only authorized agents are able to assess and take marine mammals from the wild.
The fate of the pup appeared all but sealed Friday morning when federal officials rebuked an attempt by Thurston County Animal Services to rescue the suspected abandoned baby seal.
Susanne Beauregard, director of Animal Services, said she understands the decision really isnt about this individual seal pup. I see a baby, and I can help, she said. They see an entire circle of life. Im just not accustomed to standing by and watching an animal suffer. Human compassion is a very strong motivator.
Garcia said she now understands that living near a haul-out site is a mixed blessing, witnessing the joy of rebirth and the harsh reality of nature.
For Huggins, a week that started with controversy has taken a positive turn.
We were out in a boat last night to check on the seals, and on the way back in we saw a pod of Risso dolphins, Huggins said of the rare sighting in Puget Sound. Combine that with the pup getting help, its a pretty happy ending to the week.