Commentary: If playing Pokemon near the beach, go away from seals

A seal pup on the Edmonds Marina dock earlier this year. If you see a pup, leave it alone. (Photo by Tom Dockins)
A seal pup on the Edmonds Marina dock earlier this year. If you see a pup, leave it alone. (Photo by Tom Dockins)

It has been a very eventful 10 days for Edmonds Seal Sitters: a harbor seal pup on the Edmonds waterfront every day, one ailing seal transferred to PAWS for rehabilitation, a Seal Sitter training session that attracted 20 potential new volunteers, good citizens who helped on the beaches until our volunteers could arrive…

But Seal Sitters, in localities throughout the region, are encountering a new, difficult challenge: Pokemon Go players crowding resting seal pups.

This is dangerous for several reasons. A young harbor seal uses all its energy to feed, move and grow; it only has a month with its mother before it is weaned and left to fend for itself. If it is overly stressed during this time, it may not thrive. Also, if the mother seal offshore sees people crowding her pup, she may abandon it. Lastly, large aggressive crowds make it very difficult for Seal Sitters to manage a seal pup haul-out.

Pokemon Go is an international phenomenon and has been a lot of fun for a lot of people, and most players are respectful. Some consequences of the game could have not been anticipated, and we hope the Pokemon Company will address them as they arise.

It turns out the Pokemon Go game has a baby seal icon in the game (a Pokemon known as “seel”), and some players want to connect that icon to a live baby seal, so they crowd the animal.

Edmonds has dozens of Pokestops, where players can collect extra points; there are many of these Pokestops on the waterfront.

The seal pup that hauled out on Olympic Beach a week ago was adjacent to two Pokestops, and at times, we had nearly 100 people crowding the young seal. We had Seal Sitters on site, and two exceptional young Pokemon Go players helped with the crowds, explaining the danger to other players. Still, it was a difficult situation that extended after dark.

Edmonds Seal Sitters, the Sno-King Marine Mammal Response team and West Seattle Seal Sitters are all developing local responses. NOAA has been contacted and is investigating a regional response for the West Coast Marine Mammal Stranding Network.

Please, Pokemon Go players — stay at least 100 feet away from a resting seal. They can not be part of your game.

Finally, as part of the Edmonds Seal Sitters transition toward merging with the Sno-King Marine Mammal Response group, calls to the Edmonds hotline number will be automatically forwarded to the SKMMR hotline (206-695-2277) for a response.

Share the shore wth resting seals!

–By Susan Morrow, Edmonds Seal Sitter

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