When a weeks-old male harbor seal pup was spotted alone on a beach at Fort Ross State Historic Park in Sonoma County this spring, well-meaning beachgoers surrounded, petted and tried to feed it.
The pup was rescued by the Marine Mammal Center and taken to the center's Marin Headlands hospital for rehabilitation. It was diagnosed with malnutrition and maternal separation.
The pup, named Boulders, is now responding well to treatment and has a second chance at life.
The Marine Mammal Center recounted the story to remind beachgoers to keep their distance from and resist taking a selfie with their cameras and smartphones of the northern elephant seals and harbor seals that are giving birth to pups in rookeries along North Coast beaches.
Marine Mammal Center spokesman Giancarlo Rulli said it's the busiest rescue season of the year.
Last year 86 seals, sea lions and sea otters were rescued from negative human interaction across the center's range between San Luis Obispo and Mendocino counties. The 86 rescues are significantly higher than the average of 40-60 rescues a year, Rulli said.
The Marin Mammal Center currently has 150 patients on site at its hospital.
A great wildlife viewing experience starts with giving the animals the safe distance to be wild, Rulli said.
The moms and pups are not keen on selfies and are not good playmates for visitors' dogs or children.
"The pups are at the most vulnerable stage of their life and easily become stressed, separated or abandoned by their mothers if humans or dogs get too close," Rulli said.
To safely view the pups, keep a safe distance on land or water, use a zoom lens and call the Marine Mammal Center at (415) 289-SEAL if you see a seal or sea lion in distress.
"Please save the SEAL-FIE for later and remember sometimes long distance love can be a beautiful thing," Rulli said.