Not made of plastic and alive for once – Northern Fur Seal pup

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13 Dec 7:40pm – I just got word that the fur seal known as Sparkle has died. She was just too small and undernourished to make it.

I just read that the sex of the seal has been determined, female.

NOTE: I was at an art opening at The Marine Mammal Center tonight (29 Nov) and learned a little more about this fur seal. It weighed a diminutive 4.5 Kg, the tiniest of the 7 fur seals they have presently. In addition to being severely underweight (below birth-weight), it is also very dehydrated and likely has pneumonia. There is a good chance it will not survive.

Big storms are happening in California which means litter season has begun.

I went out to walk along Drakes Beach this afternoon to see what the strong southerly winds had pushed ashore.

While walking back to the car, this little one hauled out right in front of me.

Emaciated Northern Fur Seal pup (Callorhinus ursinus)

As tired and emaciated as it was, I surely looked too much like a predator, so back in to the roiling surf it went.

I kept walking back to the car and watched as it hauled out again and scooched back in the surf again and again and again.

Quickening my pace so it might haul out behind me and feel safe enough to stay, I stepped over kelp, logs and foam, careful not to trip. Thankfully it did haul out again and headed for high ground.

I only had a point and shoot camera, so I stayed a good distance away and watched as it shivered and groomed. It was exhausted and I imagined happy to be out of the pounding surf.

Over the past few years I have packed out the dessicated bodies of two dead Northern Fur Seal pups (and one Guadalupe Fur Seal). This was the first live specimen I had ever seen. I really wanted good images, but my main camera was an hour away.

NOTE: I am on the collecting permit of the California Academy of Science. Because of this, I periodically recover birds or marine mammals deemed of interest to the Cal Academy. Please do not remove animals from the beach, ever. If you see a live or dead seal, note the location (GPS waypoint is best), size, species if you know it, condition and call the dead animal hotline at Cal Academy (415-379-5381) if the animal is dead. If it is alive, call the Marine Mammal Center stranded animal line at (415-289-7325). Never pick-up a pup that is alone. It is likely the mother is away feeding.

Scooping up the piles of plastic I had cached on my walk out, I hurried back to the car for the drive back to get my long lens and fast camera.

An hour later I was back with 400mm of lens and tripod to allow me enough distance so as not to worry the animal as I ogled with my binocs and clicked the shutter. It had moved out into the center of the beach, perhaps the falling rocks from the cliff above made it think twice about being so close to the cliff. The dropping tide created a vast, flat and mostly dry place to curl up.

As I maneuvered and fiddled with my tripod, microphone and other equipment and shot images, others took an interest in this furry bundle of protein sleeping on the beach. A vulture floated by and peered down. A raven swooped overhead and lit on the cliff over us, wondering if this morsel was ready to consume. A very large gull sauntered up quite close, I thought I might be able to record an interesting exchange as they got to know one another. But the gull looked at me and backed off. It did not know that I eschew gull.

Not the best image, but it does show nicely how to distinguish a Northern from a Guadalupe fur seal. The fur on the fore-flipper of a NFS stops far from the tip, as you see here. The fur on a Guadalupe continues down about half way to the end and has a less straight line where it ends, more ragged.

After an hour or so of watching and clicking, I packed up and headed back home.

On the way back, a few phone calls later, after they concluded that I did indeed know the difference between a California sea lion and a fur seal, a person from The Marine Mammal Center was on his way out to recover it.

He was going to arrive after dark and his flashlight was not working. I offered to come along and show him where it was and I had several bright lights. He was happy to have me join him.

After parking, we carried a small dog carrier with us as I lit the way on our walk to where the seal was last seen. We were on it much sooner that expected as it had moved a 100 meters or so. We dropped the carrier and Doug set off towards the rapidly fleeing seal. Up close it it was even smaller than it appeared while I photographed it.

Doug estimated it to weigh about 5 kilograms and to be about 2 months old. It was clearly emaciated, though still rather feisty.

Into the carrier it went and we carried it back to the truck.

Sparkle, as this seal has been dubbed is likely just arriving at The Marine Mammal Center as I type this. It will immediately be fed via a tube the equivalent of Pedialyte to rehydrate it. Tomorrow it will be looked over by a veterinarian. Go here to see a list of all the animals currently being cared for at the Marine Mammal Center

If it recovers enough weight and is otherwise healthy, it will eventually be released to hopefully live a long and productive life.

Here is a a 3 minute video of my visit today with a Northern Fur Seal. My apologies for the intrusive banner across the bottom. I hope to at least be recognized as the person producing the images and videos when they show up all over the internet and in classrooms.

Humans are hard on the planet, but we can learn how to be less so, if we care to.

In the post below this one, “Fishing is hard on the sea …” I shared images of trash I packed off my local beaches from one storm.

I need to expand a bit on what I wrote. The items you saw in those images are mistaken for food and eaten by hundreds of thousands of birds all over our planet each day. Some of these birds fly thousands of miles to gather food for their offspring. After being fed a belly full of plastic, they die.

Look at this image showing oyster farming detritus:

NOT albatross food

Now look at this image by Chris Jordan of a dead albatross on the Midway Atoll:

Dead Albatross by Chris Jordan – See the oyster spacer tube in there!

Here is a live albatross for comparison:

See all the disposable lighters in this image:

Disposable, hmmmm……where do they go?

And again, a dead albatross by Chris Jordan:

Dead Albatross by Chris Jordan – where disposable lighters end up.

More human waste from Point Reyes beaches:

Discarded toys – NOT albatross food!

Another dead bird from Midway courtesy Chris Jordan:

Dead Albatross by Chris Jordan

Chris has been documenting the deaths of thousands of birds on Midway for several years. A movie is coming soon. You can see more of his work here

There, I wanted to draw a line between what I pick up off the beach and the impact it has on our planet.

Can you think of how you might adjust your daily living patterns a little so that you generate less stuff that may end up killing some hapless bird trying to put some food on the table?

So what is a Park for anyway?

To me, it is a place where I go to be away from the internet, curmudgeons, war, pointless consumerism. I go to places like the back-country of Kings Canyon National Park and remote beaches of Point Reyes National Seashore to be soothed by a planet unspoiled by the contrivances of humans. I go to these places to remember what life is all about. I’ve been blessed to be able to see all that I have seen.

It is important to protect these special places and I am glad (mostly) that we have the park service to do so.

I’ve been packing about 1 ton of trash off the beaches of Point Reyes each year since late 2008. My knees remember each stoop to pick up another bottle cap, another plastic wrapper, each step back up the hill onto to the Pierce Point trail.

When I started this cleaning, I secured permission to deposit what I gather in the park dumpsters. I’ve learned more about dumpsters than I care to know. When I find that the South Beach dumpster is so rusted out, that items placed in it fall out the bottom and are blown back on the beach, an email/call or two, or three will usually get it replaced. The same for South Beach and Drakes Beach. Thank you Cicely.

Lately I’ve become frustrated with the park service. OK, I have been frustrated with them for quite some time now. For example, seeing that the fellow who services the bathrooms at the many beach parking lots tosses large cardboard boxes into the dumpster instead of recycling them bothers me. If I, a volunteer, can sort and recycle the items I pluck off the beach, the paid staff can surely recycle the tools of their trade. I have been fishing them out, crushing them and recycling them at my house for sometime now.

I’ve told a number of NPS people, hoping to get the paid staff to do the right thing. It took a while until a small recycling bin eventually showed up at one site for staff to use instead of the dumpster. Bravo. Now, to get them all to use it…

Though, after hearing that one supervisor, having learned of me pulling cardboard out of trash bins again and again, said to another employee “I’m going to super-glue a box in the bottom of the dumpster so he has to crawl inside to get it,” a light went off for me.

I no longer track my hundreds of hours and submit them so the park can receive money for their volunteer program.

This may seem trivial on its own. But the above example is only one of many instances (nor is it the most troubling) I saw firsthand of “do as we say, not as we do” within the NPS.

I may still gather human trash off the otherwise pristine beaches around here. But I’ll do it for me, selfish bastard that I am.

And for those that come after us.

Fishing is hard on the sea, living is hard on my heart

Click on the title of this post to read it and see a related header image.

The debris shown in the images below was collected after the first big storm of 2012 in early February.

Over two days I spent 10 hours and covered about three miles of Drakes Beach and South Beach. Just imagine what all the beaches of Point Reyes were covered with from just one storm!

The plan was to have posted these images in February. Due to painful distractions, I am finally getting around to sharing what I hope you find are compelling images. That is, I hope they compel you to give some thought to all that happens in order to bring seafood to your table.

Tomorrow is the commercial crab opener of 2012. Thousands of crab pots have been dropped in the sea attached to miles and miles of petroleum based rope, foam floats and plastic bait jars. Much of this gear will be lost due to storm, propeller strike or other activities. While scraping and grinding along the bottom of the sea, or abrading on the beach sand, many thousands of pounds of plastic will be pulverized and deposited into the food chain.

Does society have any idea what is undertaken to put seafood on their table? The time, expense and effort of the fishermen, the vast amount of gear lost at sea each season, or stolen by unscrupulous crab fishermen? A local fishermen once told me, after sharing with me the many ways in which fishermen “do unto others” in not such golden ways, “Crab fishing makes ya crabby!”

Be sure to have a look at the last picture. There you will get a close look at about 75 oyster spacer tubes from Drakes Bay Oyster Company (DBOC) in the foreground. I have found well over 5000 of these in the last five years. From as far north as the tip of Tomales Point and south to Slide Ranch.

Click on image for bigger picture – Debris recovered over two days work, about ten hours effort

Click on image for bigger picture – Should the price of crab reflect the cost to the planet?

Click on image for bigger picture – Maybe some of this is yours?

Click on image for bigger picture

Click on image for bigger picture – Heroin, nicotine and caffeine….slower, faster, anywhere but here and now…

Click on image for bigger picture – If all dogs at the seashore are on leash….how come I find 100’s of tennis balls and ball tossers each year?

Click on image for bigger picture

Click on image for bigger picture – Each one of those orange tags represents about $200 in lost gear for a crab fisherman. What if they paid a deposit on each trap set? To offset the cost of picking up after all their gear that litters the ocean and beaches.

Click on image for bigger picture – Black PVC pipe oyster spacers used by Drakes Bay Oyster Company. You see 75 or so here. I have found over 5000 of these on Point Reyes beaches, as well as dozens oyster grow-out bags and the foam from inside grow-out bags.

All forms of commercial fishing take a huge toll on our planet.

Is it asking too much to set aside portions of the planet as areas we tread upon lightly, or tread upon not at all?

Many say we must do all we can to produce food locally, sustainably to feed the 7 billion humans on earth.

Others say we need to slow the growth of the human population, keep it more in line with the carrying capacity of earth.

This planet is fragile. Humans, only one of the many species on this blue sphere, have developed the means to do great good and great harm. As we ever more quickly modify our nest, it is less able to feed an ever growing population. Does this make sense? Does a growing family move into ever smaller and smaller housing?

I think The Dude said it best: