Emerson’s back but may be relocated again if harassment continues: DFO

Colin McTaggart/Submitted
Emerson spotted on Gonzales Beach on April 14.

Vancouver Island’s local celebrity, Emerson, may have to be relocated again following reports that people and dogs are harassing the elephant seal.

On Apr. 1, Emerson began his moulting process on a patch of grass at Gorge Waterway Park. As a local celebrity, dozens of onlookers gathered around the seal, some taking photos and getting close to the animal.

Moulting is a natural process where the seal comes ashore to shed their fur and underlying layer of skin.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) officers eventually built a perimeter around the seal to prevent people from getting too close to the animal.

But Emerson just couldn’t stay put.

He was eventually escorted back into the waters on Apr. 3. Two days later Emerson reemerged at the Gorge, but this time on a roadway.

DFO loaded the seal into a vehicle to be relocated to Barkley Sound, just south of Ucluelet. The DFO said in an April 5 statement that Emerson was being taken “far from human habitation, to ensure that he can complete the moulting process in peace without endangering his health and will not pose a health and safety risk to humans and off-leash dogs.”

Emerson didn’t seem to get that memo. Instead, in under a week, he swam back to Victoria where he was spotted just outside the Victoria International Marina on Apr. 12. A trip that averaged 34 kilometres per day, according to the DFO.

“He is a wild animal weighing approximately five hundred (500) lbs, roughly the size of a bear, and while he may look slow and harmless, elephant seals are capable of moving very quickly and could be dangerous if they feel threatened,” said the DFO in an email statement.

On Apr. 16, a CHEK News reporter spotted the seal at McNeil Bay.

Too close for comfort

Since his return, officials say they’ve received reports of harassment towards the seal.

“Unleashed dogs have been approaching and barking at Emerson, often at the instigation of their owners; people have approached Emerson to try and pet him, take selfies with him, and on occasion prompted their small children to do the same,”

In one report, DFO says a child was persuaded to touch their nose to Emerson’s.

“The Department is concerned that, if public disturbances of the elephant seal continue, someone will get hurt, or the animal will experience adverse health outcomes,” the statement says.

The DFO says elephant seals carry diseases that could be spread to humans, including leptospirosis and seal pox.

Emerson may have to be relocated again to a more secluded area in the interest of the public and the seal’s safety.

Fines can reach up to $100,000 for people violating marine mammal regulations.

“When you see a seal on land, please keep your distance and your pets leashed; while seals on land may look slow and harmless, they are capable of moving very quickly and could be dangerous if they feel threatened,” DFO said.

The DFO is urging anyone who sees a marine mammal being harmed or harassed to report it to their reporting line at 1-800-465-4336 or DFO.ORR-ONS.MPO@dfo-mpo.gc.ca


Oli Herrera

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