These newly weaned seal pups in Puget Sound are apparently determined little creatures. HydRemote, a retailer of underwater cameras and controls in Washington state, recently mounted one of its recording devices to an old surfboard and captured one little pup's struggling efforts to ride it. The results are gratuitously cute.
As adored as these creatures may be, seal pup populations on the West Coast are facing severely depleted numbers this year. Far south of Washington, on the beaches of Southern California, they're actually washing ashore in droves for reasons that scientists haven't been able to discover as of yet.
According to recent reports, 517 pups have been admitted to Southern California rescue centers, all of them sick from unknown causes. While a handful of pups are expected to fall ill each year, researchers report this many—especially just two and a half months into the new year—is highly unusual.
The seals, most of which appear to be about eight months old, are all exhibiting the same extreme symptoms of lethargy, dehydration and malnourishment.
Still, no one can figure out why this is happening. David Bard, operations director for the San Pedro Marine Mammal Care Center, told NBC News, "We are not seeing a disease outbreak among these animals or any obvious underlying cause."
Sue Chivers of the National Marine Fisheries Service reported to NBC Los Angeles that investigating scientists are focusing on changes in the ocean that may be obstructing the seals' mothers from feeding them, or the seal pups themselves from finding enough food. That could be symptomatic of a range of causes from global warming to disease.
Though many seals are too sick to be helped, others are responding quite well to their recovery treatment, which includes a steady diet of fish smoothies.
But as the season carries on, the pressure is mounting to find the reason behind the animals' odd illness. Scientists are concerned that whatever is causing the distress to the coast's southern populations, could work its way up to their northern ones.
In the meantime, experts urge West Coast residents not to approach any seal pups they may find on the beach—even if they're on a surfboard—but instead to notify their local lifeguards, park rangers or marine mammal facilities.