OLYMPIA — It might be agonizing to watch a harbor seal pup that appears to be starving, but “rescuing” it would be unnatural and could do more harm than good, a spokesman for the National Marine Fisheries Service said.
Touching the pup also would be illegal, spokesman Brian Gorman said Friday.
A woman with a waterfront home on south Puget Sound about 5 miles north of Olympia has been agonizing since the weekend over a nearby pup that has been crying, alone and apparently neglected.
From her home, Brandy Garcia can see a couple of dozen pups who haul out on a former railroad trestle on Henderson Inlet. She sees other mothers feed their pups but not this one.
Animal agencies and rescue groups have all told her to let nature take its course, but she says it seems inhumane.
Susanne Beauregard, director of Thurston County Animal Services, told The Olympian on Thursday her agency could help. But Garcia said she had a call from animal services Friday morning saying federal authorities had told it to “stand down” and there was nothing it could do.
The seal pup remained on the trestle, and Garcia was looking to see if it was still alive. Its cries kept her awake last weekend, and she has called everyone she can think of for help.
“It’s heartbreaking,” she told The Olympian earlier. “Morally and ethically, I feel horrible watching that poor thing starve to death.”
But Gorman said helping a harbor seal pup is a bad idea. As hard as it is to watch, it’s normal for about half the 3,000 to 5,000 harbor seals born in Puget Sound to die before they are a year old.
“Even if we wanted to `rescue it,’ doing so would spook other pups and adults in the same location, and so it would be a stupid idea,” he said.
There are other good reasons not to touch seal pups.
“We don’t know no mother is feeding it. It hasn’t been monitored 24-7,” Gorman said. “Mothers may nurse at night. She may be at the point where her pup should be weaned, at which point it will be left and it will figure out for itself to go into the water and forage or it won’t.”
Human intervention would be a mistake, he said.
“I can’t emphasize enough to your readers this is perfectly normal and part of the breeding strategy harbor seals have evolved over tens of thousands of years,” Gorman said.
Most seal pup deaths are not witnessed, just as people don’t usually see “fawns or baby rabbits of baby robins die.”
“This is what happens in the real world,” Gorman said, adding he doesn’t want to sound cold and aloof.
“Unless there is some human-caused injury, like being caught in net or shot, it just doesn’t make ecological sense to interfere in what is a natural evolutionary process,” he said.