Sunday, April 24, 2011

Little Squirt

Friday night we picked up a docent shift at the Tidepool Rookery. Earlier this month the harbor seals starting having their pups and now there are about two dozen mom and pup pairs hauling out at low tide. The "holy grail" experience as a docent is to see a seal give birth. Well, folks ... we got to see it. First year volunteering and on our second shift. Some people volunteer for years and don't get to see it.

Here is an overview of one  part of the rookery. Lots of moms and pups sprawled out. There are also some big females here that are waiting to give birth.

There were two large females that we were keeping our eye on, as they kept moving around the beach, separating themselves a bit from the others, and once they did settle, the just couldn't seem to get comfortable. One spotted female hauled herself as close the the bluff wall as she could, hunkered down and started rocking back and forth, almost like she was heaving or panting.

Soon a flock of seagulls swarmed in. This was a good sign for an impending birth, as they like to swoop in pretty quickly after a pup is born and eat the placenta and afterbirth. I am not sure what clues them on the impending birth, but they clearly knew something was going to happen.

Waiting for an afterbirth snack. Yum!?
After a few minutes of heaving, we saw the female spread her back flippers and a caught a glimpse of something black starting to bulge out. About 30 second later, out came a shiny black seal pup. Boom, there it was.

Black harbor seal pup, just a few minutes old.
This seal pup was rambunctious from the start. It could not decide it if wanted to nurse or move around the beach. Mama seal tried to keep herself between the pup and the other seals. At one point, the pup wandered over to another female and looked like it wanted to nurse on her. She swatted him away with her front flipper. Mama seal was not happy about that and we thought there might be a tussle for a moment. The seal pup moved itself deeper into the mix of other seal and was greeted by more swats and warning sounds. Mama seal was really getting nervous and so were we. We were not sure if we were witnessing typical post-birth activities, or if this little pup might get a really good swat that could cause harm. We kept rooting for the little pup to get out of the mix of the grumpy seals and into a clear area of the beach.

Mama seal nudged him along until they were closer to the shoreline and separated from the rest of the group. One large wave and they were covered and in the water. The pup quickly understood the drill here and bobbed around in the water with mama seal propping him up every now and then. After a little play, they made their way back on the beach.

Resting after their first dip in the Pacific.

Needless to say, we were very excited to get to see a live birth! Can't wait to go back and see the little squirt grow. It's the only solid black one on the beach so far.

1 comment:

Caroline said...

That is amazing! Thank you for sharing!