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Touching seal pups in selfies can cause them to slowly starve to death, animal group warns

See that seal pup on the beach? Leave it alone, marine experts say

Marine mammal experts urge people not to touch or pick up seal pups that may be found on beaches or shorelines, often left there to rest or wait for a mother who's hunting. Adult seals may abandon pups that have come in contact with humans.
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Marine mammal experts urge people not to touch or pick up seal pups that may be found on beaches or shorelines, often left there to rest or wait for a mother who's hunting. Adult seals may abandon pups that have come in contact with humans.

Touching and getting an up-close look at seal pups isn’t just illegal — it can be deadly.

As harbor seal pup season arrives in California, the San Francisco Bay Area’s Marine Mammal Center, headquartered in Sausalito, posted a warning on Facebook about the dangers of hands-on interactions with baby seals that are resting on the beach.

“Harbor seal moms leave pups for short periods to forage offshore,” the group wrote Wednesday. “Mom watches from the waves, and if she sees you or your dog near her pup... she often will abandon the pup.”

Without its mom, there’s little hope for the young pup, according to the center.

“The abandoned pup slowly starves to death,” the center said. “Harsh, but reality.”

The Facebook post had been shared more than 1,000 times within hours on Wednesday. It featured an image of a woman petting a baby seal, with her face blurred out.

The center recommended seal-watchers stay 50 yards away from the animals, at minimum.

“Even that ‘just one real quick selfie!’ may cost the pup its life,” the group wrote.

According to the center, the problem has gotten worse.

“If these negative encounters continue to increase, we are likely not going to be able to enjoy this for much longer,” Dr. Abby McClain, a veterinarian at the Marine Mammal Center, said in an interview last year, according to KQED.

The Marine Mammal Center isn’t alone in warning of the dangers seal selfies pose: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has urged people against touching seals for selfie purposes as well.

“The popularity of selfies and capturing any moment through photographs or video is posing a new threat to wildlife and humans, including seals,” according to NOAA. “Getting too close to seals can scare the animals and change their behaviors.”

Don’t see the mother seal anywhere nearby?

That doesn’t mean she’s not watching, according to NOAA.

“You may not see the mother, but if she sees you near her pup, she may not think it’s safe to come back,” NOAA warns. “It might only take a few seconds for you to snap the photo, but the mother may abandon her pup if she feels threatened.”

NOAA also reminds seal fans that it’s illegal to disturb the animals.

One commenter asked why the center blurred out the face of the woman petting the pup.

“Of course it’s cathartic to yell anonymously at others online. Everyone does it. But that’s entirely not the point of the post,” the center wrote in response. “The point of the post is for people to learn from her actions. It’s not ‘Hey everybody! Let’s yell at this lady!’ Her anonymity makes her a vehicle for the real lesson.”

A sleepy elephant seal pup wandered a little too close to spectators Monday, February 6, 2017, at the Elephant Seal Vista Point at Piedras Blancas and had to be helped back to the beach by the Marine Mammal Center.

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