OREGON COAST — Along the beaches right now, shorebirds are migrating and harbor seals are giving birth. People and, more specifically, out-of-control unleashed dogs can have a negative impact on coastal wildlife, according to officials with the Oregon Coast National Wildlife Refuge.
In the past five days the Refuge office has received three reports of dogs harassing wildlife on the beach including a photo of a dog chasing a flock of birds, which was taken on Friday, May 8.
On May 11, the Refuge office received a report from a citizen in Bandon: "A newborn harbor seal pup was resting on a low rock in the intertidal zone. An unleashed dog was roughly 50' ahead of its owner and not under control. The dog ran to the seal pup, barked at it, then grabbed the pup in its mouth violently shaking the pup back and forth. The pup reared its head, attempting to defend itself. The attack lasted 20 seconds while the owner attempted to control the dog."
It was later discovered that the seal pup did not survive the attack.
Disturbing wildlife is a violation of Ocean Shore rules and can result in a fine. According to the ordinance, off-leash dogs are tolerated on most Oregon beaches as long as they are under "direct control" of the owner. This means the dog's handler must remain within sight of the dog and the dog must respond to voice commands.
"Please do the right thing and share the beach with wildlife," a Refuge official said. "Leash your dog if you see flocks of shorebirds or harbor seal pups resting on the shore. Keep back at least 50 yards. The safety of coastal wildlife can depend on your preventative actions."
The State of Oregon has jurisdiction over the beaches, which are all open to the public. While seals and other marine mammals are protected and cannot be taken under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, it's unlikely the state would prohibit dogs from being on the beach during nesting/pup season, the official explained. Harbor seals and migrating shorebirds are not protected under the Endangered Species act the way snowy plovers are, with certain beaches roped off during nesting season to help preserve that species.
"We did speak with the local beach ranger for state parks today and he will be installing signs about keeping back from seals today," the official said on May 12. It is prohibited to climb on the offshore rocks that are accessible during low tide.