PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN 6) — If you find yourself overcome by the urge to rescue what you think may be an abandoned baby seal, think again.
As visitors flock to Oregon’s beaches for Memorial Day weekend, researchers are issuing a warning against going near the pups — especially if they’re alone. The things cuter than seal pups are few and far between, but the urge to take a closer look can endanger their lives.
“It’s tempting for some people to attempt to ‘rescue’ these seemingly hapless pups,” said Oregon State University biologist and Marine Mammal Stranding Network co-ordinator Jim Rice. “But that goes against the pup’s best interest.”
Mother seals spend hours a day hunting for food in the water, leaving the seals on shore. So, seeing a baby seal all alone on a beach is perfectly normal, said Rice. However, if the mother sees people near the pup she may abandon it.
It’s a misconception that the scent of a human will deter the mother seal from her pup, said Rice. Rather, harbor seals are skittish and even the presence of people hovering or taking photos might make her fear for her own safety, and abandon the pup.
“They’re not your mythological protective mother bear,” said Rice.
Additionally, it’s illegal. Under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, disrupting the behavior of a marine mammal incurs a fine. Bystanders should stay back at least 50 yards and keep dogs leashed.
“Most people are well meaning in what they do, but ignorance is also no defense against violating the law,” said Rice.
Harbor seal birthing season on the Oregon coast runs March through June, with a spike in May. Anyone who observes incidents of seal pup harassment, or animals in distress, should call the Oregon State Police at 1-800-452-7888.
Rice could not say how many pups were abandoned due to interaction with humans.