As seal pupping season begins, experts offer tips for safe viewing

It’s birthing season for several species of ocean mammals that live along the California coast. Harbor seals and elephant seals are being born on local beaches, and to keep the new babies safe, the Marine Mammal Center has released some viewing guidelines for those lucky members of the public who happen upon the mammals’ nurseries.

“Each year the Center responds to numerous cases of newborn pups that are negatively impacted by human interaction, often by well-meaning members of the public,” they state. “There are many ways to share the beaches with these animals while also ensuring that mother and pup pairs aren’t separated during this critical time.”

SEE RELATED: First elephant seal pups of 2017 rescued by Marine Mammal Center

Lesson number one: Keep your distance. It’s okay to take photos, but the Center encourages people to stay at least 50 feet away from the babies, which nurse for their first month of life. During this period, it’s important not to scare off their mothers, who may have left on beaches to forage for food.

Seal pups often make a “mah! mah!” cry, which can easily be interpreted as a call for help. That said, it’s never a good idea to interfere. If a pup or other marine mammal is obviously stranded or in distress, do not approach it. Observe from a distance, and make note of its size, color, and other physical attributes. Call the Marine Mammal Center at 415-289-7325 and describe the scene. The hotline is monitored 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and professionals will handle the situation.

The Marine Mammal Center was founded in 1975, and during its tenure has treated nearly 20,000 marine mammals at its headquarters in the Marin Headlands.

Nuala Sawyer
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Nuala Sawyer

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