Last month, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) started their “No Selfies With Seals” campaign, which warned people to be respectful of the seals and to keep their distance, particularly during seal pupping season. It might seem like a fairly obvious point, but a recent report has perhaps shown why they were so keen to push the message.
In May of this year, a woman found a harbor seal (Phoca vitulina) pup alone on a beach in Westport, Washington, and became worried it had been abandoned by its mother. In a misguided attempt to save the pup, she put it in a plastic tote bag and took it home.
As NOAA public affairs officer Michael Milstein explained to ABC News: "She then took it home and realized she really didn't know what to do for it or how to take care of it. She later called the local aquarium, Westport Aquarium, which is part of our network of volunteers."
The seal was passed to Westport Aquarium, who said the seal was in a “lethargic” and “unresponsive” state. In a tough decision with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, they had to euthanize the seal as its health declined and its chances of survival dwindled.
Most dumbfounding of all, this case does not stand alone. So far this year, the NOAA say there have been at least four other instances of Oregon and Washington beachgoers illegally picking up seal pups.
If you do see a lone seal and are worried, then you can contact the West Coast Marine Mammal Stranding Network. In the meantime, try to remain at least 45 meters (150 feet) away. Head over to the NOAA website for more details.