|Harbor seal pup hidden amongst the rocks|
Photo by Todd Johansen 2011
While paddling close to shore north of White Gulch, looking for a sea star or two, our Saturday kayak tour suddenly stumbled upon a grey and white harbor seal pup resting on the shore, tucked into the rocks. While this offered us a rare opportunity to see a pup up close, it was important that we quickly move along and leave the pup alone.
As humans, our first instinct is to help the little guy, assuming that it has been abandoned or is sick. In actuality, mother harbor seals often leave their pups on shore for periods of time. The mother seal needs to hunt to provide sustenance for herself and for her pup, but cannot effectively snag a meal if the pup is tagging along, slowing her down. Therefore, the mother tucks the pup away, hidden amongst the shoreline, and returns in a couple of hours, once she has caught enough to eat.
In Point Reyes, Drakes Estero is a popular pupping ground for harbor seals. It is protected March through July and access routes to the pups are closed off to protect the pups and mothers from human disturbance. Smaller numbers of pups can also be found in Tomales Bay, however, and only a few certain areas are protected, so it is important to be aware when paddling in the bay, what to do if you see a harbor seal.
If you see a harbor seal pup along the shore in Tomales Bay, do not approach it. Quietly move away from the seal, as human presence will not only cause stress for the pup, but will prevent the mother from returning.
The east shore of Hog Island is a popular haul out spot for harbor seals in the bay. It is illegal to land on the east side of the island, or to approach close enough to cause disturbance to the hauled out seals. It is important for them to haul out on land so that they can rest and regulate their body temperature. They also use haul out sites to give birth and to nurse their young. Human activity too close to harbor seals causes them to “flush” or rush into the water. If they are flushed often enough, they will abandon favorite haul out sites or even their young pups.
Harbor seals are common this time of year in Tomales Bay, and can often be seen swimming near Hog Island. Even while staying clear of Hog Island, a kayaker can get an up close and personal view of a harbor seal as the curious animal swims by and investigates the boat. They feel much more comfortable in the water, and will get quite close to a kayaker, or follow the boat for a short distance.