A harbor seal pup.

A harbor seal pup.

The early Spring season brings with it new life for seals, and thousands of newborn seal pups are beginning to appear on the beaches up and down the California coastline. The new pups also face many dangers. Among them are visitors with cell phones, who just want to get that once-in-a-lifetime closeup of a newborn seal pup.

The Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, CA is warning that that once-in-a-lifetime photo could mean just that to a seal pup. Among the dangers seal pups face when they encounter humans (and their pets) is illness – harbor seal pups do not have a strong immune system when they are first born. Contact with people and dogs very likely will compromise their health, can and lead to their death.

Here are some tips and information on how you can help protect newborn seal pups:


– Stay at least 100 feet away from the seal pup. This applies to dogs, too. Harbor seal pups do not have a strong immune system when they are first born. Contact with people and dogs very likely will compromise their health… and lead to their death. (Dramatic sounding, but that’s the reality).

– If you are so inclined, politely encourage other people to also stay away from the seal pup.

– Call your local marine mammal rescue organization. (From Anchor Bay down to Morro Bay, including the SF Bay Area, call 415-289-SEAL. Other organizations rescue locally south of Morro Bay). Rescue organizations have people specially trained to evaluate and rescue harbor seal pups… if they need rescuing.

A baby seal on the shoreline La Jolla

A baby seal on the shoreline La Jolla


– Do not take “just one cute selfie!… I won’t hurt it. I’ll be really quiet and quick!” See the point above about the pup’s immune system. Additionally, because a harbor seal pup is alone on a beach doesn’t mean it’s abandoned. Harbor seal pups are routinely left on beaches by their moms when they swim just offshore to forage. Mom knows exactly where she left her pup.

Harbor seals are extremely skittish. If they see a person or dog in proximity to the pup, they will not go all “momma grizzly” and rush to defend their pup. They will instead abandon it. They will not return to the pup after you’ve taken that “one quick selfie” and left. The pup is now alone and will die. (Sounds harsh, yes. But again, it’s reality).

– Don’t attempt to rescue the pup. In many cases, the pup is just fine. Its mom is just offshore (whether or not you can see her) and she knows where her pup is. Rescue organizations’ rescue crews are trained to evaluate pups as to whether they need rescue. They have special training and equipment to rescue pups safely.

– Don’t take the pup home to feed it. Although ridiculously cute, harbor seal pups make ridiculously terrible pets. Once separated from its mom, a harbor seal pup needs a very special tube-fed diet, antibiotics, vitamins and round-the-clock care. (All that in addition to the fact that they’re not house trained. Time to replace the bathtub!).

– Don’t pour water on the pup. Harbor seal pups are not fish. They can spend hours, and even days, out of the water. Pouring water on a pup just makes them cold, and they then have to use their energy to warm themselves again.

Resources: Marine Mammal Center