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How Kayaks, Drones And Selfies Can Harm Seals During Pupping Season

March and April are when harbor seals give birth along the Central Coast. That means moms and pups need their space.

Standing along the coastal rec trail in Pacific Grove, Thom Akeman closely watches a newborn harbor seal. Mom gave birth just a few hours ago.

“They’re having their first nap and they've had their first feed. And when the water calms a little, they probably will go for a little, peaceful swimming lesson,” Akeman says.

Akeman is with Bay Net, a volunteer group of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. For over 16 years, he’s stood watch during seal pupping season. He’s here to educate the public and keep them back.

The City of Pacific Grove has put up a temporary fence with signs that say, “Please Do Not Disturb These Harbor Seals.” Still, Akeman says there are problems.

“For the last five or six years, we've had endless kayak issues; too many people with crappy little cameras trying to come in too close to take pictures. And they scare the seals and other wildlife. The last four years or so, we've had really bad drone issues,” Akeman says.

Selfies are another huge problem, according to Julia O’Hern.

“If we’re getting close enough to take a cool selfie, it’s definitely way too close for mom,” she says.

O’Hern is the Operations Manager at The Marine Mammal Center in Moss Landing. She says when people scare the seals, it can cause mom to abandon her pup.

“And now pup is all by itself and that pup isn't weaned yet. So, it still needs mom's food and everything. That's when we come in,” says O’Hern.

The center in Moss Landing is a triage hospital. During the second week in April, a baby harbor seal named Lupita stayed here for a couple of days, getting food and fluids. Lupita got separated from her mom in Santa Barbara County.

“It’s tough to see with the harbor seals because mom really does spend three months with them,” O’Hern says.

Next, Lupita will head to The Marine Mammal Center’s main hospital in Sausalito. There, veterinarians will continue caring for her. Eventually, she’ll go to what’s called “Fish School.” She’ll learn how to catch fish in a pool before hopefully being released back into the ocean.

Last year, The Marine Mammal Center responded to 19 confirmed cases of people and dogs getting too close to seals in Monterey County. So this year, the center wants people to remember 3 things: keep a safe distance, use the zoom on your camera and call The Marine Mammal Center if you see a seal or sea lion that looks sick, underweight or alone. The rescue hotline number is 415-289-SEAL (7325).

For mindful observing, there are two main spots in Pacific Grove where harbor seals give birth, Hopkins Marine Beach and at 5th Street and Ocean View Boulevard. For updates on the harbor seal pupping season, check out The Harbor Seals of Pacific Grove Facebook page. It’s run by Thom Akeman’s wife, Kim Akeman.