• Harbor Seal Issue

    by Nick DeBlino
    It’s hard to understand why the pristine waters of Monterey Bay would ever be deemed unfit for swimming. However, bathers and surfers heading into the water at Lover’s Point are sometimes met with warnings of bacterial contamination and advised to stay on the sand.
    Some are quick to blame this on faulty septic systems and sewers. While most warnings do come as a result of storm drainage, the sewers themselves are not the problem. Pets (dogs in particular) can contribute to fecal contamination in the water. This comes by way of storm runoff. The Monterey County Health Department advises people to stay out of the water at Lover’s Point and other beaches in proximity to storm drainpipes for three days after a rain. The County also maintains a log of fecal coliform and enterococcus readings in the water throughout the year.
    Waterfowl such as seagulls and geese can also raise bacteria counts. Then there are the California Harbor Seals, those lovable pinnapeds living in large numbers along our coast. In the La Jolla region of San Diego, a controversy continues at the Children’s Pool beach area, where fecal contamination from a protected colony of seals has become a local issue. Some community leaders want to push the seals out and restore the beach for swimming. Others say that violates the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
    The Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 was designed to protect species of marine mammals that were in danger of extinction. Seal populations have steadily increased since then. Just a few years ago, so many seals populated Monterey Harbor that boats were swamping under the weight of seal parents and pups hauling out on boat decks. This year, the south shore of the Hopkins Marine Station is the largest rookery (seal birthing place) in the area.

    Harbor Seal Facts
    Courtesy of The Marine Mammal Center

    1. In California, harbor seal pups are born in March and April and weigh about 30 pounds at birth. A pup can swim at birth, and will sometimes ride on its mother’s back when tired. Pups make a bleating noise that sounds like “maaaa.” After about four weeks, the pups are weaned. Adult females usually mate and give birth every year. They may live 25 to 30 years.

    2. While harbor seals swim safely in the surf, they will often curiously watch humans walking on beaches. However, they are wary of people while on land, and will rush into the water if approached too closely or disturbed. In fact, if disturbed too often, they have been known to abandon favorite haul-out sites or their pups.

    3. Each year, people find harbor seal pups on shore and pick them up, thinking the pups have been abandoned. Usually they are not abandoned; the mothers are just out hunting or watching nearby. This problem has caused many seals to be unnecessarily orphaned. These pups are then at further risk because they are unable to get needed antibodies from their mothers’ milk, making them more susceptible to diseases. When they are being cared for at The Marine Mammal Center they are kept in an area away from the other animals so they do not catch other diseases. If you see a harbor seal pup alone on a beach, remember to call The Marine Mammal Center at (415) 289-7325 to find out what to do.

    posted to Cedar Street Times on March 6, 2009

    Topics: Front PG News


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