PORT ANGELES – The harbor seal pup who attracted long-distance attention during the Arts in Action festival over the weekend was found dead on Hollywood Beach on Monday morning.
Ed Bowlby, research coordinator at the Olympic Marine Sanctuary office in Port Angeles, said the pup was two or three weeks old.
Researchers never knew its gender.
The cause of death is unknown, but it was “a natural mortality,” Bowlby said.
“The pup was very thin,” he said.
“It’s a possibility that it wasn’t getting sufficient nourishment from its mother.”
The mother could have been malnourished, or even sick, he said.
Or it could have been intimidated by the press of people at Hollywood Beach.
Last weekend, City Pier and Hollywood Beach were the sites of the Windermere North American Masters Invitational Sand Sculpture Competition and the Arts in Action festival.
The city of Port Angeles and the sanctuary erected a fence to keep people from the seal pup.
Visitors honored the barrier, standing at the fence to see if they could spot the small seal.
The mother of the pup was seen nursing it in the early morning and late evening when crowds had thinned out, Bowlby said.
“There’s no one smoking gun,” he said, but he added that the presence of people always discourages a mother from returning to her pup.
It was the second baby seal to have died on Hollywood Beach.
A dead pup was found on the beach a week ago.
Harbor seal mothers are single moms who receive no assistance from the males in caring for the young.
“It’s typical for a mother to be in close attendance for the first few days” after a pup is born, but then her energy reserves are exhausted by the nursing pup and she must go out to deep waters to feed on fish, Bowlby said.
The pup – only one is born at a time- is left on shore while the mother feeds.
She returns several times a day to nurse the baby, which usually grows quickly on the rich milk that is more than 50 percent fat.
Seal pups nurse for a month to six weeks before being weaned.
Bowlby didn’t know if the seal pup had been born at Hollywood Beach or if the mother chose the beach as a nursery.
“It’s unfortunate she elected to keep the pup on Hollywood Beach,” he said.
“Maybe next year she’ll choose the tip of Ediz Hook” where the public is not allowed.
The pup’s carcass – like the dead pup a week earlier – was taken to the tip of the Hook to decompose and be food for birds and sea creatures.
Harbor seals are plentiful in the area, Bowlby said, adding that, although he didn’t have specific numbers, he knew that the numbers have increased in recent years.