A moulting elephant seal has once again returned to the ocean after reappearing on Gonzales Beach Wednesday.
On Wednesday morning, the City of Victoria posted on social media that an elephant seal “has returned to Gonzales Beach.” People visiting the beach were asked to stay away from the animal and use caution with dogs and children.
— City of Victoria (@CityOfVictoria) May 16, 2018
By the afternoon, the seal had left the beach.
“It could be the animal realized at that spot there’s a lot of disturbance so that might have enticed it into the water,” Paul Cottrell, a marine mammals co-ordinator with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, said.
Cottrell said they think it is the same seal that arrived on the beach in April to shed fur and skin in a natural process.
Caution tape was placed around that juvenile seal. However, the sight of the seal was popular with beach visitors and officials said some people threw things or allowed their pets to bother the marine mammal. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) issued a public warning reminding people they could face penalties for harassing the seal. Volunteers also watched over the animal.
That seal eventually returned to the ocean toward the beginning of May. Cottrell said the seal is probably looking for a quiet area.
“It’s in moulting mode,” Cottrell said.
“They’re obviously very uncomfortable. They actually shed their whole epidermis and that’s why their skin cracks and peels and it’s quite a stressful time for them that they go through. So they just want to haul out in the sun, get it over with and then get back in the water.”
If the seal returns, it will get assessed by a veterinarian to make sure it doesn’t need additional care.
“The pictures that I saw today where the animal was looking fairly emaciated and well into its moult,” Cottrell said.
“Hopefully it’s just going through its natural process and nearing the end of the moult.”
Cottrell said if anyone sees the seal on a beach, they can call DFO’s Observe, Record and Report 24-hour hotline at 1-800-465-4336. Officials will them put up a perimeter around the animal.
Elephant seals are a regular visitors to the B.C. coast in the spring and summer months. Most elephant seals seen off B.C. shores are adult males or juveniles, whereas females tend to remain further offshore. They can be spotted off Vancouver Island’s west coast, in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and off the Queen Charlotte Islands.
A sickly-looking elephant seal on land is probably moulting, the DFO said. All elephant seals spend one month a year on land to moult; they undergo what is called a “catastrophic moult” in which they shed all of their fur along with the underlying layer of skin. For just over a month, the seal is confined to land and spends most of its time dozing and lazily flipping sand onto itself to stay cool. It doesn’t eat and may lose up to 25 per cent of its body weight.
Elephant seals that are moulting may appear slow and harmless but can move quickly and can be dangerous if threatened. If anyone sees an animal being harassed or injured or an injured or sick animal exhibiting highly unusual behaviour, they are asked to call DFO’s Observe, Record and Report 24-hour hotline at 1-800-465-4336.