Anacortes, Washington The lone fur seal pup highbeams us with its liquorice-drop eyes the size of beer coasters.
The look ... indeed the whole species, especially in its infantile state ... has evolved towards this one point: fusing all a predator's synapses with extreme cuteness. As Tim Cahill pointed out in Outside magazine: "The theory has it that we, as humans, are hardwired to protect our progeny, and as a result we are also instinctively protective of creatures that possess attributes common to human infants. Clumsy animals, preferably chubby ones with large eyes, big heads, and short limbs, are said to be fubsy."
The seal fubs me. Befubdled, I forget everything I once knew about marine mammals. Hell, I just about forget my name.
Must. Help. Baby.
I bolt back to Washington Park's entrance, as Jessica and Pooka calmer souls continue the 2.2-mile loop. I stop a purposeful strider and ask her where the ranger station is, so I can report a possibly abandoned seal pup.
"Don't touch it!" she bellows.
I glance down at the tarmac. Where exactly does she think I'm hiding the critter? In my daypack?
I memo the station door, ticking the "urgent" box. Those eyes. Saucer big. So, so woebegone. I grew up across Padilla Bay and never saw a beached pup. Maybe one of the refinery tankers ran over its mother and now the orphan lies limp and alone, draped over the rocks like an old net, desiccating in the summer sun...
Lil' thing! I won't fail you.
I gibber on the phone to Fish and Wildlife.
"Don't touch it!" the officer shouts. Then, more calmly. "The mothers haul out the pups in remote coves, while they fish. It's fine, as long as you don't handle the baby, which might cause mom to reject it."
My super-hero strength fades. Oh, well, yeah. I kinda remember all that from my days as a Northwest wilderness guide ... back before the seal pup fubbed my IQ.
Deflated, I shuffle towards the water. Might as well sulk by the shore about my aborted hike.
The ranger truck darts past. I give chase.
"I want to report a beached baby seal," then, before he can draw breath, "which I did not touch."
He's grateful for the precise directions and promises to check on the Wickedly Cute Destroyer of Higher Brain Functions. "In fact, that's the first pup reported this year a month later than usual. I'm just glad you didn't pick it up."
"C'mon. Who would?" Even deep in the thrall of uber-fubs, I knew better than to fold, spindle or mutilate a marine mammal.
"I had a lady run up to me with a bundle wrapped like a sick child. She threw it into my arms and the seal bit my shoulder so hard it broke the skin. Those pups look all cute and harmless, but they have a mouthful of sharp teeth." The ranger shakes his head. "That one died in captivity. You really shouldn't touch"
"yeah, yeah: got it." I interject. "Ever thought about signposting that the pups are OK? You know, so suckers like me don't ruin their walks? And so nutters don't lug them around in blankets?"
"If we put up notices, then people would look for 'em. And then they might touch..."
The knee-jerk reactions and repetitions are starting to get right up my nose. But then I realize the conservationists' goal and it is a formidable one:
Advice sturdy enough to endure the stupidity supernova of a seal pup encounter...