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March 2, 2007

Contact: Mary Jane Schramm, National Marine Sanctuary Program
(415) 561-6622, ext. 205

David L. Hall, NOAA Public Affairs
(301) 713-3066, ext. 191

Harbor Seal Pup Birthing Season Has Begun
National Marine Sanctuary Staff Cautions “Do Not Disturb Seal Pups”

The first harbor seal pup to be born in 2007 has made its debut on a Bay Area beach, and more will soon be appearing on shorelines throughout the area. The staff of the NOAA) Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary cautions beachgoers that it is essential seal pups not be removed or disturbed, even if it appears that they might be orphaned or abandoned.

Every year, healthy harbor seal pups are mistaken for orphans and are needlessly separated from their mothers by well-meaning people — sometimes permanently. Harbor seal mothers leave their pups unattended on the beach while foraging at sea. After feeding, they return to reclaim and nurse their pups, but the presence of a human or dog near a seal pup may prevent a mother seal from reuniting with her young one.

The managers of Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary advise beachgoers to report details of any suspected orphaned or injured pup to a licensed facility such as The Marine Mammal Center or a park ranger for appropriate action. Seals are protected from harassment by the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Disturbance can result in pup deaths, overall reduced birth rates, reduced habitat use and abandonment of the beach site. Although some wildlife experts recommend keeping 300 feet away, disturbance can occur even at that distance.

“The key is if wildlife reacts to your presence, then you are too close,” said Jan Roletto, Farallones sanctuary marine biologist. “Back away slowly, until they no longer respond to your presence.”

About one-fifth of the state’s harbor seal population breeds in the Farallones sanctuary near San Francisco Bay area, with its human population of more than four million people. For 15 years pupping success declined alarmingly at Bay Area seal rookeries due to disturbance from hikers, dogs, aircraft, and vessels such as motorboats and kayaks. As a result, the sanctuary developed its SEALS (Sanctuary Education, Awareness and Long-term Stewardship) monitoring and public outreach program, which has proved vital in reversing this decline. As a result of the program, the survival of harbor seal pups at the Bolinas Lagoon and Tomales Bay rookeries has increased.

Harbor seals haul out in groups ranging from a few individuals to several hundred seals. Females generally give birth on sandy beaches or rocky reefs to a single pup, which must nurse for three to four weeks. Pups are able to swim when only a few hours old, and may “piggyback” on their mothers’ backs while learning to forage. For additional information on sanctuary wildlife, programs and issues, visit the sanctuary and sanctuary association’s Web sites at and, or call (415) 561-6622.

NOAA’s National Marine Sanctuary Program, which manages Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, seeks to increase the public awareness of America’s marine resources and maritime heritage by conducting scientific research, monitoring, exploration and educational programs. Today, the sanctuary program manages 13 national marine sanctuaries and one marine national monument that together encompass more than 150,000 square miles of America’s ocean and Great Lakes natural and cultural resources.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, an agency of the U.S. Commerce Department, is celebrating 200 years of science and service to the nation. From the establishment of the Survey of the Coast in 1807 by Thomas Jefferson to the formation of the Weather Bureau and the Commission of Fish and Fisheries in the 1870s, much of America's scientific heritage is rooted in NOAA.

NOAA is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and information service delivery for transportation, and by providing environmental stewardship of our nation's coastal and marine resources. Through the emerging Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS), NOAA is working with its federal partners, more than 60 countries and the European Commission to develop a global monitoring network that is as integrated as the planet it observes, predicts and protects.

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On the Web:

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration:

NOAA National Marine Sanctuary Program:

NOAA Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary:

Farallones Marine Sanctuary Association:



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