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A Talk on the Wild Side.

The Birth (and Afterbirth) of a Harbor Seal Draws Quite the Crowd

These incredible photos depict the pivotal moments immediately following a recent harbor seal birth on the Oregon coast. They were taken by photographer Roy Lowe, whose eye-witness account follows. 

Placental warning! These photos aren't for the faint of heart or for everyone, but they capture an amazing event that you definitely won't see every day.

1. Pup 3 minutes old. This was the first observation of the pup. Note that juvenile gull already moving in to feed.

Harbor Seal 3 Minutes after birth


2. Pup 3 minutes old. The juvenile gulls race in to grab membrane off of pup but have to avoid the protective mother.

Gull grabs membrane off the pup


3. Pup 7 minute old. The umbilicus is protruding from the mother. Note the gull in the lower right corner with a bill full of membrane.

Gulls are starting to gather around the harbor seal pup and mom


4. Pup 7 minute old. While the mother was protecting the pup, gulls would sneak up behind her and pull membrane off the umbilicus still attached to her. It was hard for her to defend against this and protect the pup.

Gulls sneaking up behind the mother seal and eat the membrane


5. Pup 12 minutes old and attempts to nurse for the first time. The pup was searching all around the side and the belly of the mother but found the nipples pretty fast. Amazing instinct. Note the large wet area (tears) around the mother’s eyes. Only birthing mothers showed this extent of wetness around their eyes.

Harbor seal pup starts to nurse for the first time


6. Pup 14 minutes old. Mother has just expelled the placenta and the first gull begins to move in.

Mother Harbor Seal Expels placenta


7. Pup 15 minutes old. As soon as the mother turns away the gulls begin to drag the placenta a safe distance away to eat.

Gulls begin to drag placenta away


8. Pup 16 minutes old. Gulls in feeding frenzy over the placenta. The mother “defended” the placenta several times driving the gulls off of it. She would put her nose right on it to check it out and I got the feeling she was making sure it wasn't a pup that she needed to protect.  She did this several time but then gave up.

Gull feeding frenzy over harbor seal placenta


9. Pup 19 minutes old when adult male bald eagle takes over eating the placenta. I was photographing the gulls fighting over the placenta when they all suddenly exploded in the air leaving the placenta behind and I knew from experience there was a bald eagle coming in and sure enough I saw it coming. The crows would squat very low to the ground and creep in and were actually able to steal some tissue while the eagles fed.

Bald eagle starts eating harbor seal placenta


10. Pup 19 minutes old when the adult female bald eagle comes in to get her share of the placenta. This is a local pair of eagles I have previously photographed. The female had landed out on the flats and stayed there a few minutes before joining the male. There was a brief tug of war but they both got a portion of the prize and ate their fill on site.

Bald eagles feed on harbor seal placenta


11. Pup 22 minutes old when it goes for its first swim. It was a bit clumsy but learned fast and started looking around underwater.

Harbor seal pup goes for its first swim


12. Pup 29 minutes old. Swimming on mom’s back is easier!

Harbor seal pup swims on mom's back.


13. Pup is 58 minutes old. Nuzzling has gone on steadily since birth and helps them recognize one another.

Harbor seal pup nuzzles mom

Roy Lowe is a recently retired USFWS employee and a passionate wildlife photographer.

Roy shot these photos right off the Pacific Coast Scenic Byway bridge over Alsea Bay, Oregon. He made around six visits out to the bridge over the month of April to photograph harbor seals with pups and he was hoping to catch a birth. On May 7th he noticed a flock of western and glaucous-winged gulls roosting right next to the harbor seals and he thought this may indicate seal births. Gulls take advantage of these kinds of situations to feed. So he knew something was up! These photos help tell this incredible story. Follow the story on the Oregon Coast National Wildlife Refuges' Facebook page. >>

Beautiful pictures! Thank you for sharing them with us!!!
# Posted By Nita | 5/21/15 10:03 PM

how amazing for you to witness, thanks for sharing
# Posted By Meredith | 5/24/15 11:29 AM
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