It’s that time of year again: Seal pups are appearing on beaches along the Oregon coast. Beachgoers are asked to stifle their desire to assist these animals in some way, and instead give them space.
Every spring, harbor seals give birth on secluded beaches or reefs along the Pacific coast. The pups are born ready to swim but cannot tread water for long; they need ample time on shore to rest and stay warm. They can remain there for days while their mothers forage at sea.
Concerned observers often report “abandoned” seal pups on the beach, not realizing that the mother might be foraging nearby, or swimming just offshore to maintain distance from curious humans and their dogs.
Humans approaching or otherwise trying to “help” these unattended pups may inadvertently cause them harm, as the presence of people may deter mother seals from coming ashore to nurse.
Harbor seals are wild animals that face many challenges to reaching maturity, and pup mortality is a natural check on robust seal populations in our region. In general, the Oregon Coast Aquarium is committed to the rescue and rehabilitation of indigenous wildlife when they are deemed injured by human interference. But in the case of harbor seal pups, humans should not be approaching these animals in the first place, and the aquarium advises the public to obey marine mammal protection laws and let nature take its course.
“Concerned observers can call the Oregon Marine Mammal Stranding Network at 541-270-6830 if a pup is spotted,” said Jim Burke, Director of Animal Husbandry at the Oregon Coast Aquarium. “Their staff can post signs near the seal to inform other beachgoers of the situation.”
Stern warnings aside, finding a harbor seal pup on the beach can be an enchanting and poignant experience. To keep these creatures safe, watch with binoculars or take pictures from afar — let the seals take care of themselves.