CARMEL, Calif. - Marine Mammal Center staff say a vacationing family took a seal pup from a Carmel-area beach and tried to drive away with it.
Staff received a call about the pup being taken from Garrapata Beach in a recreational vehicle headed on Highway 1. Marina Nichols and Zee Zaballos, who work at the Marine Mammal Center's satellite facility in Moss Landing, immediately jumped in Nichols' BMW and took after the seal.
"I just hoped we would get there in time," Nichols said. "I knew we had just this one shot and that if we lost track of them, we'd never be able to save this seal."
Nichols drove while Zee called a dispatcher from the Monterey County Sheriff's Office and got in touch with the family in the RV. She persuaded them to pull off the highway and wait for them to arrive.
When Nichols and Zee reached the RV, they asked the family to show them the seal pup. They were presented with a laundry basket full of dirty laundry. Hidden under a pile of blankets was a tiny harbor seal pup with its umbilical stump still attached.
Zee and Nichols took the animal and the family left.
Back at the Moss Landing facility, the pup -- which they named Beemer Cruise - was examined. It was determined the female seal was healthy but without proper care from the Marine Mammal Center, the animal wouldn't have been able to survive without its mother.
For several weeks, Beemer Cruise was fed fish smoothies through a tube as volunteers worked to teach the animal how to catch fish on its own.
Center staff say that while the family may have meant well, their actions were illegal and prevented a healthy pup from growing up in the wild with its mother.
Harbor seal mothers often leave their pups on the beach while they forage nearby, but any human interaction -- even getting too close -- could cause a mother seal to abandon its pup.
If you see a marine mammal that you suspect is sick, injured or orphaned, don't approach it yourself, Center staff say. Instead, call The Marine Mammal Center at 415-289-SEAL (7325).
For now, Beemer Cruise is doing well at the center's facilities and will eventually be put back into the ocean.