TIAA #27: “The Helpless Animal & Useless Photographer”

Tosin’s Images & Anecdotes (TIAA) is my self-assigned photography challenge of 2022. The immediate objective is to select one image from my inventory (a cityscape, landscape, portrait, oddity, etc.) each week and write something about it. This “something” could be the story behind the photo, a triggered memory in relation to the photo, or simply a reaction or reflection based on the subject matter featured. The long-term objective is to encourage myself to add more content to “La Vue Atypique”, which celebrates its first decade in publication this year.

Baby seal / North Jetty / Ocean Shores, Washington, USA / June 3, 2017
Baby seal / North Jetty / Ocean Shores, Washington, USA / June 3, 2017

What can I say about the photograph above?

The first thing I can say is that this week’s feature photo, and the corresponding photographs in this article, have never been released until today. I have kept them buried in my archive because I had always felt a sense of sadness and shame about them.

Sadness because of the situation. Shame because of my response to the situation.

I had decided to take a long weekend break away from Seattle and drove to Ocean Shores, Washington as a getaway. This small and alluring town is located along the Pacific Ocean. For whatever reason, anytime I have the opportunity to physically come into contact with the world’s largest body of water, I am compelled to remove my socks and shoes, and just let my bare feet get submerged by its frothy waves for several minutes. As much as I believe myself to be a bona fide city guy, I cannot deny the sensation of peace and tranquility that I experience when I stand barefooted in the Pacific. In my mind, it feels like one of my few opportunities to communicate with the planet. This is a one-way channel of communication, by the way, with me as the quiet recipient of whatever message the Pacific wishes to relay. One might say it’s a type of meditation for my nerves in which I exclusively concentrate on the waves and water flowing around my feet and my ankles. I listen to the murmur of the Pacific and the squawking of the seagulls flying above and around me. Afterwards, I feel centered.

I have driven to Washington’s Pacific Coast solely to engage in this specific activity a few times.

Baby seal / North Jetty / Ocean Shores, Washington, USA / June 3, 2017
Baby seal / North Jetty / Ocean Shores, Washington, USA / June 3, 2017

After one such occasion, in June 2017, I took some time to explore Ocean Shores. I had read that the North Jetty was a place of interest, so I visited. The location was at the southern tip of a narrow peninsula marking the entry into Grays Harbor. You could see sailboats and tugboats steadily entering and exiting the harbor in a rhythmic way. There was a humble — perhaps romantic? — cheerfulness in this coastal landscape.

The jetty itself consisted of a sandy beach with several large stones stacked on top of each other. The stones formed a sizeable wall to guard the coastline from the tides of the ocean. At the time I was there, I assumed the tide was low as one could walk across the stones and parts of the beach.

Baby seal / North Jetty / Ocean Shores, Washington, USA / June 3, 2017
Baby seal / North Jetty / Ocean Shores, Washington, USA / June 3, 2017

As I explored, walking closer to the ocean, another pedestrian was walking in the opposite direction, towards me. I think we must have greeted each other. Upon seeing my camera, he informed me that there was a seal pup at the border of the beach. As my eyes lit up, the passerby’s tone changed and said, “The pup is very cute and everything, but I think it’s been abandoned. It’s all by itself and just floundering by the rocks. It’s either going to die or fall prey to another animal.” He proceeded to point in the direction where I could find it, but the smile on my face had already disappeared. I wanted to see the seal, but not under these circumstances.

It would be the first time I would encounter an abandoned baby seal and I didn’t know what to really expect because the thought in my head was “What can I do to help the seal?”

Baby seal / North Jetty / Ocean Shores, Washington, USA / June 3, 2017
Baby seal / North Jetty / Ocean Shores, Washington, USA / June 3, 2017

I realize there are professionals who know how to handle these situations, and that I wasn’t the first human being to lay eyes on an abandoned seal, but I still felt lousy regardless. It didn’t help, upon seeing the seal pup, to hear its cry — akin to a child playing a horn or tuba in a manner which sounded forlorn and unhappy. Of course, this is how I perceived the entire scenario based on what the pedestrian had told me. Without that pretext, in retrospect, I wonder if I would have felt the same sadness.

Probably, I suppose.

At that time, I was ignorant of the fact that abandoned seal pups located along the coastline is actually a commonplace situation. Many times, the mother needs to forage for food to feed the pup, so she may temporarily leave the pup alone and come back later with food. I did not know this at the time. Even if I did, I had seriously considered if it was possible to physically transport the seal pup somewhere — but to where?

I was in a small town only for the weekend. Could I truly do what I had envisioned — saving the pup — all by myself? What was I going to do? Carry a wild animal, whose weight I did not know, put it in my car’s trunk without any food, and take it where exactly? Realistically, the answer was no. I had no idea who the proper authorities were for this scenario, so I was ignorant of whom to contact.

Baby seal / North Jetty / Ocean Shores, Washington, USA / June 3, 2017
Baby seal / North Jetty / Ocean Shores, Washington, USA / June 3, 2017

Yes, I felt a sense of responsibility because I was taking pictures of an animal whose fate could, for those minutes while I was there, be determined over whether I did something or not. I felt guilty. Here was a helpless animal calling out to someone and a useless photographer to do anything in the moment. Ultimately, I didn’t think it would be prudent to touch — let alone, transport — the pup from its location. I might have made matters much worse, considering the pup might have considered that I was trying to harm it.

Since that time, I have learned that what I did was the right thing to do — not to disturb the pup whatsoever. I also read a story — interestingly, from not too far away in British Columbia in the same month of the same year as well — that it’s advisable to leave them be.

Alas, in retrospect, I don’t feel as lousy as I did at the time these photos were captured. I am more informed today. As a result, I’ve decided that it’s alright to share the images of the cute little pup, five years later. Enjoy.

Baby seal / North Jetty / Ocean Shores, Washington, USA / June 3, 2017
Baby seal / North Jetty / Ocean Shores, Washington, USA / June 3, 2017

28 articles down for the TIAA challenge. 24 remain!

One Comment Add yours

  1. Kirk. says:

    As a pawrent to a rescue, I felt tremendous sadness thinking that the baby seal had been abandoned. I’m relieved to know that it likely that it’s mother left it on the beach to go search for food. The photos are touching especially the first (cover) photo that captured the seal looking right into the camera. Kudos!

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