On Saturday we responded to the area of the Samoa Bridge after a caller reported witnessing a couple take a seal pup from the bay and put it in an aquarium in their vehicle. Officers quickly stopped the vehicle and rescued the seal pup. California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) and the North Coast Marine Mammal Center responded to take over the investigation and care for the seal pup.
CDFW says this is the time of year many wildlife species from seals to deer leave their young unattended in safe areas, sometime hidden, while the mother leaves to feed. With seals, this commonly means on a mudflat in Humboldt Bay. Many people assume the newborn seal is abandoned, but that is rarely the case. The best thing to do is keep your distance and leave the animal alone. The mother will return. If people think the animal is in fact abandoned or hurt, they should not approach or touch it and call the North Coast Marine Mammal Center at 707-951-4722.
The occupants of the vehicle were detained and the investigation by CDFW is ongoing. Marine mammals are protected federally by the Marine Mammal Protection Act. It is unlawful to feed or harass wild marine mammals including dolphins, porpoises, whales, seals and sea lions. If prosecuted, NOAA Office of Law Enforcement could enforce civil penalties up to 11,000, up to 1 year in prison plus criminal fines, and forfeiture of the vessel involved. The public is instructed by NOAA to keep at least 50 yards (150 feet) away from seals. State laws also protect marine mammals and violators can be charged criminally with a misdemeanor.
Thank you to the alert witness who called this in and provided a detailed description of suspects and vehicle!