Fewer seal pups are being spotted this year around West Seattle, and a larger percentage of the animals is dying, according to Seal Sitters, a nonprofit that advocates for the animals.
Robin Lindsey with Seal Sitters said Sunday that 51 pups were seen in 2011, but only 19 pups have been seen this year. An additional 15 were found dead.
There s something wrong with them and we can t help them, said Lindsey.
Lindsey said the mortality rate for seal pups is unprecedented since the organization started in 2007, and it is working with biologists to figure out a cause.
When the numbers go down like they are this year, it s a wakeup call, said Brenda Peterson from Seal Sitters.
Early fall is when seal pups are being weaned and learning to fish for the first time.
Often, Lindsey said, those pups come on shore to rest on their own. But this year, many of those pups are being seen emaciated with exposed rib cages.
We ve had incredibly thin pups this year, outrageously thin pups, she said.
But there is no explanation. Experts said the seal s food source is reasonably good. It s possible a virus is going through the West Seattle seal population, but until scientists can prove that, a cause of the pup deaths is unknown.
We just don t really have a clue, Lindsey said.
Remember, if you see a seal pup on the beach, leave it alone. It's against federal law to touch, feed, move or harass a marine mammal.
Who to call?
Seal Sitters Marine Mammal Stranding Network, 206-905-7325 (SEAL), responds to all of West Seattle from Brace Point through the Duwamish River, including Harbor Island.
Seattle Marine Mammal Stranding Network, 206-695-2277, responds from the Seattle waterfront (King Country) to Kayak Point in Snohomish County.
For all other beaches call the NOAA hotline: 1-800-853-1964
Correction: The story has been updated to provide more accurate contact information for organizations that protect seal pups resting on area beaches. In addition, the story was updated to note that the mortality rate for seal pups is higher so far this year. The total number of observed seal pup deaths is not higher.