OLYMPIA — An Olympia-area woman with a waterfront view of a south Puget Sound bay where harbor seal pups are raised has been watching one pup slowly die.
Brandy Garcia is certain it has been abandoned.
“It’s heartbreaking,” Garcia told The Olympian. “It cried and cried all day and night Saturday, all day and night Sunday, into Monday morning.”
It stopped crying Tuesday but was still alive Thursday morning, she said. Other harbor seal mothers come ashore to feed the pups, but not this one.
“Morally and ethically, I feel horrible watching that poor thing starve to death,” she said. “How can you sleep through something like that?”
Garcia has called every wildlife and animal rescue organization she can think of. All tell her to leave the pup alone and let nature take its course.
Garcia can see a couple of dozen pups from her home on Henderson Inlet, north of Woodward Bay. The haul-out site on a former railroad trestle is about five miles north of Olympia.
Over the past three years, she has watched mothers give birth and teach their young to swim and hunt. “Living here, watching the whole endeavor of these little creatures, I get a little protective of them,” she said.
Because of regulations in the Marine Animal Protection Act of 1972, there is very little anyone can do with an abandoned pup, said Jessie Huggins, stranding coordinator for Cascadia Research in Olympia. There are very few rehabilitation centers in Washington that can accept harbor seals, and most are already full of pups, she said.
“There are not a lot of options. Our choices right now are euthanizing the animal — which we don’t want to do — or letting nature take its course,” Huggins said.
The Puget Sound harbor seal population is at carrying capacity — the maximum level the environment is capable of sustaining, she said. A high mortality rate is nature’s way of balancing out over-population.
“We don’t have the resources to save them all, and we really wouldn’t want to do that anyway. We try not to interfere,” Huggins said.
Half of harbor seal pups do not survive their first year, Huggins said. The most testing times for survival are the first two weeks of life, and when they are being weaned off of milk. Those that die become food for eagles. “Let that circle of life happen as it should,” she said.
Garcia said she has a marine biology degree from the University of Florida at Key West, and appreciates the role of natural processes. But she says this pup doesn’t fit what she feels is natural selection.
“It isn’t injured or sick, or have a genetic problem that would hurt the species. It’s just hungry,” she said. “We wouldn’t let our dog starve to death. These little guys deserve the same compassion.”