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Seal Spotting and Santa 

click to enlarge A harbor seal pops up at the North Jetty.

Photo by Mike Kelly

A harbor seal pops up at the North Jetty.

I was already sad on Christmas morning when I found Santa Claus washed up naked on the beach.

At first, I thought I'd found a dead marine mammal. But then I noticed the white beard, the nose like a cherry, the bowl full of jelly belly and a surprisingly tight ass. No tiny reindeer or presents were washed up, so I assumed his Santa suit had been blown off as he fell from on high. Or maybe he was murdered in a sleigh jacking. Anyway, now I felt better for not getting any presents.

A dead harbor seal (Phoca vitulina) would have made more sense on any other day. Unlike often happens with dying harbor seals, I was surprised that gulls hadn't pecked out Santa's eyes and there were no vultures or ravens around. It could be that Santa's carcass was too tough, or maybe it was because he smelled like gin and candy cane.

Apparently, like Santa, larger marine mammals are difficult for our local scavenging birds to break into. But the Yurok Tribe is bringing the California condor back! So the other scavenging birds will likely benefit from easier feeding due to the large condor's ability to tear into tough carcasses.

But most of the harbor seals I see on the beach seem fine. They like to rest where they won't be disturbed and a large group often hauls out at the Mad River mouth.

And in the spring, mothers will leave their newborn calves alone on the beach while they hunt, diving to deeper than 500 feet for more than a half hour at a time. And to produce the 50-percent-fat milk for her baby, the mother must hunt a lot — mainly for fish, but also for things like squid, octopus and crabs. They've also been documented preying on ducks.

So when you see a cute little seal on the beach that looks abandoned, don't worry. Mommy will be back if she's not eaten by a shark.

Speaking of sharks, our local lagoons are apparently relaxing places to not be eaten by them. I've seen harbor seals resting on large wood pieces in Stone Lagoon, and I sometimes see the tell-tale tracks of a harbor seal belly-crawling across the beach to and from the lagoons.

Harbor seals will also swim up rivers for miles inland to chase salmon and steelhead. I've seen them crawling up shallow riffles above the highway bridges on the Mad River to seek salmon holding in deeper pools. If you want a good show, try your luck from the Hammond Trail Bridge on an incoming tide in fall or winter, when salmon are headed upstream.

You may also have noticed curious young seals in the surf looking at you or your dog. I've also had them play with my fins while I was scuba diving. I've never had to brawl with one, though. Plus, they are protected by law. Under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, it is even unlawful to remove a dead seal's body parts.

But there is no Magic Elf Protection Act, so I decided to add Santa's skull to my collection. I put my knife against his throat and his eyes opened! They actually twinkled.

Santa said, "What are you doing, you dick?"

I said, "Oh, sorry Santa! Um, it seemed like you needed a tracheotomy ...?"

"Ho-ho-ho, idiot. I'm exhausted and just want to get some vitamin D before heading back to the darkness of the North Pole."

I said, "But you aren't done with your route yet, Santa. You didn't visit my house."

Santa spat and said, "Because you've been naughty, duh!"

Biologist Mike Kelly (he/him) writes science-based satire as M. Sid Kelly. It's available at Eureka Books or everywhere e-books are sold.

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