The Oregon Coast is home to some pretty incredible creatures, but none are quite as special as baby seals and western snowy plovers. These cute critters take up a corner of our hearts not only for their fuzzy features and adorable movements — but also because they need extra protection. Here’s what you need to know about these amazing animals and what you can do to keep them safe. (You can also show your support with handsome Be Kind to the Coast gear like hats, beanies, T-shirts and more.)
Living among California sea lions, Steller sea lions and northern elephant seals, harbor seals can be spotted year-round on the Oregon Coast. Baby harbor seals, also called pups, are typically born in the spring, with births peaking in mid-May. While they have adorable features — big dark eyes, fuzzy little bodies and cascading whiskers — it’s important to remember that baby seals are happiest and healthiest when left alone. That means that the best way to show your love and adoration is by keeping your distance.
Baby seals are protected everywhere, signage or not. Some areas may also have Wildlife Protection Area signs. Remember that if you spot one, stay at least 100 yards away (about the length of an average city block). Disturbing or harassing these animals is not only harmful, it’s illegal. If you see a baby seal on its own, don’t worry. It is waiting for its mother to return from feeding.
- Harbor seals move on land by flopping on their bellies in a move called galumphing.
- Harbor seals can weigh up to 300 pounds — as much as a refrigerator.
- Pups wean in four to six weeks, having doubled their body weight. They are on their own afterward, with no additional parental care.
Western Snowy Plover
One of the animals of the Oregon Coast that deserves our extra care and consideration is the western snowy plover, which has been designated as a threatened species since 1993. Weighing a mere 2 ounces, these tiny birds nest directly in the sandy areas of a few carefully selected Oregon Coast beaches and generally return to the same nesting areas each year. Humans can easily — and inadvertently — disturb these animals, which is detrimental to their health and the health of the species.
Before you visit the beach, take time to be aware of the places these amazing birds flock to each year. These areas are well marked, though a complete list and map of designated beaches and their correlating restrictions can be found on the U.S. Forest Service’s western snowy plover webpage and on the Oregon State Parks’ western snowy plover informational page.
Because these birds make their nests in dry, loose, sandy areas, beachgoers are asked to walk only on wet sand in these areas during nesting season, which lasts from March 15 to Sept. 15. Dogs, kites and drones are not permitted in these areas during that time period. All of these precautions give these birds the space they need to nest safely, thus building back up their population. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the presence of these pale brown, white-collared birds. Bring a pair of binoculars and observe these unique species from afar.
- Western snowy plovers eat invertebrates such as crabs, clams and insects, and can often be found foraging in the wrack line — the strip of marine debris that’s left on the beach after high tide. They pause, look for a mole crab or beach fly, then run quickly to seize their small prey.
- Dads in this species are the ones that take care of the chicks after they hatch, making sure they’re warm, protected and learning the skills they need to feed themselves.
- These birds take advantage of small debris such as kelp, driftwood and shells when making their nests, which are simply small scrapes in the sand.
– Emily Gillespie
Top photo of harbor seals by Steve Dimock