Humans, drones interfering with Bay Area pupping season

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The Marine Mammal Center is reporting that trespassers and drones are threatening pregnant harbor seals during an essential time for pup survival.

Pupping rookeries offer seals protection from predators. The areas are fenced off with “no trespassing” signs. But, in some cases, people ignore and enter, often sending the seals in a frantic dash.
It’s not believed that trespassers are intent on harassing the animals, according to Julia O’ Hern, Monterey Bay Operations Manager.

They’re adorable. One glimpse and you’re drawn into their dark eyes and subtle smirk. But whether you’re searching for a closer view or looking to update your Snapchat story, your closeness causes inherent danger to the skittish seals.

“They’re shy and will scurry away whether they have pups or not,” said O’ Hern. “The mom may leave and then the pups are left with no care.”

The biggest threat third party disturbances present is maternal separation. Though in some cases this happens naturally in the wild, the chance is largely amplified when humans interact.

But people aren’t the only issue. According to O’Hern, the influx of drones near popular breeding beaches poses similar harm. It’s not limited to the noise or flight patterns, rather a culmination of the device’s presence, because, in the ocean, harbor seals are prey. If they are drawn to any sort of threatening movement, they’re liable to initiate their best, and virtually only, mode of defense: swimming away.

A rescue operation took place last weekend when two abandoned pups were spotted at Hopkins beach in Pacific Grove. Patrick, one of the rescued pups, is under care at the Marine Mammal Center, while his counterpart, “Rocky,” remains on his own as of Friday.

Patrick is being cared for alongside “Emergenseal,” another young pup that was recently rescued, at the Center’s main hospital in Sausalito. A concerned bystander phoned the Center and reported a stranded seal. Trained responders arrived near the Cypress Point Golf Course in Pebble Beach on Wednesday, where they performed emergency care – he was very weak and had a slight abrasion near the mouth.

Both seals are small, malnourished and receiving intermuscular fluids and antibiotics. Partick, however, is reportedly alert and vocal. Last year, the Center rescued 40 seals and sea lions that were negatively impacted by human or dog interaction.

If you see a young seal that appears to be stranded, call The Marine Mammal Center at 831-633-6298, or the rescue hotline 415-289-SEAL. The staff is happy to provide assistance, coordinate rescue missions and answer any questions.

“Pups really do need to stay with their mom. We want people to enjoy the sight of them and take it all in, but it’s extremely important to keep a proper distance,” said O’ Hern.  “If the animal turns and looks at you, you’re too close.”

Humans can share the beaches with mothers and pups without causing harm. Below are some tips on how to safely share these sensitive spaces.

Here are quick tips from Giancarlo Rulli with the Marine Marine Mammal Center to safely share the beaches and help prevent these types of disturbances:

• The best thing for people to do is to keep their distance! It’s ok to take photos and admire the animals, but remember to keep a safe distance of at least 150 feet.

• If an animal appears ill or injured, or you don’t see the mom nearby, please don’t try to intervene. Call the Center’s 24-hour rescue hotline at 415-289-SEAL (7325). The Center will monitor the animal for 24 hours or more, depending on the situation and, if necessary, trained volunteers and staff will rescue it safely.

• The distinctive “mah! mah!” cry of a harbor seal pup may sound like a call for help, but it’s never a good idea to interfere. The mother may be just off-shore foraging for food for her pup, and if a human or dog gets too close, she may abandon the pup altogether.

• Elephant seal pups should also be enjoyed from a safe distance. Like their harbor seal counterparts, they are quite photogenic on the beach and susceptible to encroachment.