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April, 2006


Do Not to Disturb Seal Pups
Harbor Seal Pupping Season Has Begun!
By Submission

SAN FRANCISCO - The first harbor seal pup to be born this year has already made its debut on a Bay Area beach. The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration/NOAA's Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary cautions beachgoers to be aware that more harbor seal pups will soon appear on San Francisco Bay Area beaches. It is essential that seal pups not be removed or disturbed, even if it appears that they might be orphaned or abandoned.
Each year healthy harbor seal pups are mistaken for orphans and needlessly separated from their mothers by well-meaning people. Harbor seal mothers leave their pups unattended on the beach while foraging at sea. After feeding, they return to reclaim and nurse their pups. The presence of a human or dog near a seal pup may prevent the mother seal from reuniting with her young one.

The Farallones marine sanctuary advises beachgoers to report details of any suspected orphaned or injured seal to a licensed facility such as The Marine Mammal Center or a park ranger for appropriate action. Seals are protected from harassment by the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

Disturbance can result in pup deaths, overall reduced birth rates, reduced habitat use and abandonment of the haul-out site. Although some wildlife experts recommend keeping three hundred feet away, even at that distance disturbance can occur. Farallones sanctuary marine biologist Jan Roletto notes: "The key is: if wildlife reacts to your presence, then you are too close. Back away slowly, until they no longer respond to your presence."

About a fifth of the state's harbor seal population breeds in the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary near San Francisco, with its human population of nearly 8 million. For 15 years pup survival had declined alarmingly on Bay Area seal rookeries due to disturbance from hikers, dogs, aircraft, motorboats and kayaks. In response, the sanctuary developed its SEALS (Sanctuary Education, Awareness and Longterm Stewardship) program which has been vital in reversing this decline.

The SEALS program provides public outreach at Bolinas Lagoon and Tomales Bay, which draw thousands of visitors each year. Volunteers explain the need to maintain distance from the seals, provide information on the seals and their habitats, and facilitate wildlife viewing through using high-powered spotting scopes. As a result of the program, the number of harbor seal pups at these rookeries has increased, reversing the downward trend.

Harbor seals haul out in groups ranging from a few, to several hundred. Females generally give birth on sandy beaches or rocky reefs to a single pup, which must nurse for three to four weeks. Pups are able to swim when only a few hours old, and may "piggyback" on their mothers' backs while learning to forage. For additional information on sanctuary wildlife, programs and issues, visit the sanctuary and sanctuary association's websites at and, or call 415/ 561-6622.

NOAA's National Marine Sanctuary Program (NMSP) seeks to increase the public awareness of America's biological resources and maritime heritage by conducting scientific research, monitoring, exploration and educational programs. Today, 13 national marine sanctuaries encompass more than 18,000 square miles of America's ocean and Great Lakes natural and cultural resources. Designation of an additional 131,818 square miles of the Northwest Hawaiian Islands Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve as the 14th national marine sanctuary is pending

NOAA National Ocean Service manages the NMSP and is dedicated to exploring, understanding, conserving and restoring the nation's coasts and oceans. The National Ocean Service balances environmental protection with economic prosperity in fulfilling its mission of promoting safe navigation, supporting coastal communities, sustaining coastal habitats and mitigating coastal hazards.

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