A Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada officer says an elephant seal likely ended up next to the Trans-Canada Highway in Saanich after it was bothered by off-leash dogs and people.
The Gorge Tillicum Community Association shared that the elephant seal had ended up near the Burnside exit ramp, and Saanich Police and DFO were called to help move it.
Mandy Ludlow, the detachment commander for southern Vancouver Island, was one of two DFO officers to respond and says it is unusual for an elephant seal to be this far from water.
“It’s not normal for them to travel that distance, and from the several people that we interviewed in the area, it was because it was trying to get away from people and off-leash dogs,” Ludlow told CHEK News in an interview.
“So it had travelled from the [Colquitz] River, there was a flat area that it travelled across, up a bank, across a walking trail, up another bank, across another walking trail, and then down a really steep bank along the highway. So it was quite the exercise to get back to the water.”
When she and the other officer arrived, they quickly realized that the elephant seal was out of the water to moult. Once a year, elephant seals shed all of their fur and one layer of skin, which is a process that can take over a month. Ludlow says while elephant seals are moulting, it can look like they are sick but it’s actually a normal and healthy process.
“They need to just be somewhere alone without threats. Obviously, people, dogs, predators are all threats to these animals,” Ludlow said.
“You can imagine an animal, every time it is exposed to a threat, it’s expending calories, and they don’t eat for over a month, so any energy that it can keep to just stay alive is what it needs to keep and not dealing with off-leash dogs and people bothering it constantly.”
The DFO officers knew that the seal needed to be moved, since next to the highway is not a safe place for the elephant seal to be for a month while it moults, but there was consideration for how best to move it to a safe place.
“Unfortunately, the animal was just a little bit too big to get it into a crate and then to be able to get it in and out of a vehicle. That would have been our best-case scenario, because then we could have taken it far away where, hopefully, this doesn’t happen again,” Ludlow said.
The elephant seal was moved back to the river with the help of Saanich Police officers by using a berm to nudge it slowly — over the course of three hours — back to the water.
“During the process, the animal was obviously tired. So we’d encourage it to travel a short distance and then let it rest for a while and repeat,” Ludlow said.
Once the elephant seal was back in the water, Ludlow says it swam off and the officers do not know where it has gone since.
“Hopefully it’s found a spot where it can be left alone,” Ludlow said.
If you encounter an elephant seal moulting, or other wildlife, Ludlow says it is important to leave them alone. If you see someone harassing wildlife, Ludlow asks that you report it to the DFO’s 24 hour hotline at 1-800-465-4336.