Harassment of seals and sea lions on the U.S. western coast has gotten way out of hand, officials say.
It’s so prevalent, beaches along the coast are considered hotbeds for it — and wildlife officials are pleading with the public to stop, especially during pupping season.
In a new report, the Marine Mammal Center — the world’s largest marine mammal hospital — found more than 25% of its patients were rescued in 2022 after negative interactions with people and dogs. The center responds to 600 miles of California’s coastline, according to a June 5 news release.
And the harassment isn’t limited to California. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has also had to ask beachgoers to stay far away from seals and sea lions lounging on the sand.
“It’s a busy time of year on the Oregon coast with visitors sharing the beaches with seals and sea lions,” officials said. “ODFW asks beachgoers to keep away from seals and sea lions resting on the beach or rocks.”
It’s important not to crowd around, touch, or otherwise harass pups that look like they’ve been left alone, officials said.
“Pacific harbor seal pupping season is in full swing. A harbor seal mother often leaves her pup alone on shoreline rocks or the beach while she feeds in the ocean,” officials said. “This is an important time for her to refuel and later feed her pup, but she is unlikely to rejoin her pup if there is activity nearby.”
Other than seals, California sea lions also may stop to rest on Oregon beaches during their journey south to breed. Beachgoers are also likely to see molting elephant seals andhave been reminded that “while it isn’t pretty, these animals are not sick” and should not be messed with, moved, or otherwise harassed.
Crowding is the most common form of harassment, Marine Mammal Center officials said.
“While on the surface, taking a close-up selfie or having your dog off-leash near a marine mammal may seem cute and innocent, it can create real challenges, especially for young seals and sea lions,” said Adam Ratner, the associate director of conservation education with the center.
The Marine Mammal Center highlighted the tragic case of a harbor seal named Snowcone, saying it “illustrates the impact harassment can have on a marine mammal’s life.”
Snowcone was “young enough to still be nursing” when he was rescued at Shell Beach in Sonoma County in April 2022. Two beachgoers had illegally picked him up and separated him from his mom, officials said.
Responders at the center noted he had suffered severe head trauma from what they believe was a dog attack, officials said. They suspect Snowcone had been attacked after the beachgoers moved him from the established rookery, or breeding area, to an area of the beach where several dogs roamed.
Snowcone died on the way to the center’s hospital.
“The tragic case of Snowcone highlights that we have a community that loves marine mammals and wants to help them,” Ratner said in the release. “But the only way to ensure the safety and well-being of these animals is to first call the experts and keep a safe distance until trained responders arrive.”