MARIN (KPIX 5) — Marine wildlife rescuers say they are being inundated with orphaned seal pups, many of them abandoned by their mothers because of the actions of people on the beach.
In the Bay Area, the birthing of new seal pups has reached its peak. Of course, that draws the interest of people on the beaches who might want to move in to get that close-up picture or selfie.
“It’s just a fascinating moment, but they don’t realize what they actually do to nature,” said Stefan Wanner, a tourist from Switzerland who uses a camera with a zoom lens to snap shots from a distance.
Unlike a lot of other animals that will fight to protect their young, seals can be very timid, and if they see their pups get too close to people, they will often swim off and never look back.
“The baby’s left on the beach without its mom and in need of help,” said Adam Ratner, Guest Experience Manager at the Marine Mammal Center. “In some cases, it just becomes too dangerous for the mom, so the baby does become abandoned.”
The abandonment is one reason why the Marine Mammal Center in the Marin Headlands is currently full of orphan pups, most of them young elephant seals.
“We had over 120 elephant seals on site at just one point in time,” Ratner said. “One issue is definitely people getting too close to the animals…this desire and love of marine mammals…but it can sometimes go too far.”
Without a mother to teach them to fish, the pups learn how from the center’s staff instead. The volunteers slowly introduce feeding and then hunting behaviors by speaking minimally and always from behind wooden barriers.
“That way, once they’re back out in the wild, they don’t associate good things or food with people,” Ratner explained. “And that’s going to be the most important aspect for them being back out in the ocean, healthy again.”
The good news is the pups that survive actually do quite well once they’ve been released back to the sea. But for those who don’t make it, it’s a sober reminder that sometimes loving nature means giving it some space.
If you should spot a pup alone on a beach, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s in trouble. Its mother might just be out fishing. But the Marine Mammal Center advises to keep your distance and give them a call, and they’ll come out and see if it needs help.
And with all their new guests, the Center says they could use some more help. If you’d like to train to be a volunteer, there is more information at the Marine Mammal Center’s website.