Springtime is “pup season” on Nature’s Coast, and whenever possible, I make plans to be there. For if there is a more beautiful expression of bonding between a mother and her young, I haven’t yet seen it.
Born in a flash (blink and you might miss it), newborn harbor seals enter their vast new “water world” ready within minutes to swim like they’ve already lived long lives in the water.
Mother seals — when present — are as supportive, attentive and protective as you might imagine any mother being. Should they feel a sudden need to swim out to sea, however (and theories abound as to why they might), they will leave their pups unattended on the beach, occasionally for a considerable period of time. Every so often, well-meaning (but sadly ignorant) humans will happen upon a seemingly motherless pup and attempt to “rescue” it. One such person I know admits to taking a pup home and keeping it in her bathtub for several days. Unable to feed or care for it, she finally in desperation released the pup, on a different beach from where she took it, where with little hope of reconnecting with its mother, it faced slim chance of survival. Thus the best advice for anyone finding an “abandoned” seal pup on the beach, is absolutely to leave it alone, right where it is, where its mother will assuredly return soon to care for it. If torn by emotion and tempted to act otherwise, it might help to know this:
Interfering with seal pups and other sea mammals is highly illegal. Violators risk jail time and fines of thousands of dollars. And people have, in fact, been prosecuted in Oregon.
Video often conveys more information than simple beauty. In this clip, for instance, severe scars on the mother’s abdomen bespeak a too-close encounter with (presumably) a boat propeller. Both harbor seals and sea lions frequently show up at viewing locations with horrific-looking injuries, which as this new mother demonstrates, they are surprisingly capable of surviving.
Beautiful as they are, life is not easy for these creatures. My best advice to anyone encountering seals during a beach walk is to bring binoculars (and/or telephoto lens, if a photographer), appreciate them from afar — and do nothing to make their lives harder.