It is Harbor Seal pupping season around the San Juans. Pups can be seen swimming alongside their moms or lying next to her on the little rocky islands they use as haul-out sites. It is also the time of year when people may come across a stranded pup on the shore. They call Wolf Hollow because they know we care for injured or orphaned wildlife and therefore expect that we also deal with stranded seal pups. The rules, however, are different for seals.
Most of the wildlife Wolf Hollow cares for comes under the authority of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. If you see an injured hawk, or come across a thin, weak otter kit, you should call Wolf Hollow. Our rehab license allows our staff or trained volunteers to go out to assess the situation, decide if the animal needs care and transport it to Wolf Hollow if necessary.
However, Harbor Seals, being marine mammals, come under the authority of another government body, National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), so the rules and regulations for their handling are different. Harbor Seals are covered by the Marine Mammal Protection Act, and Wolf Hollow staff and volunteers don’t have the authority to deal with a seal pup on the shore. We can’t go out and assess the animal’s condition or bring it to the center for care.
We do rehabilitate injured and orphaned seal pups, and occasionally other marine mammals, when they are brought to us by the proper authorities. In San Juan County this includes rangers within their parks, and the San Juan County Marine Mammal Stranding Network. The Stranding Network is coordinated through the Whale Museum and consists of local volunteers and coordinators who are authorized to investigate reports of live and dead stranded marine mammals within the county.
If you see a stranded seal pup, report it by calling the Marine Mammal Hotline – 1-800-562-8832 ( leave a message).
We hope this clarifies the roles the different organizations play and helps people understand why Wolf Hollow staff and volunteers can’t respond to calls about Harbor Seal pups in the same way as we do to calls about other wildlife – Shona Aitken, Education Coordinator, Wolf Hollow Wildlife Rehabilitation Center.