In an act of either bravery or naivety, an elephant seal caused a brief stir in Ucluelet on Sunday when it picked a particularly busy area to haul out for its annual catastrophic moult.
The moulting seal was spotted by a Strawberry Isle Marine Research Society staffer on a rocky shoreline roughly one metre away from the Pat Leslie Memorial Boat Launch.
The area was immediately cordoned off with tape and two information bulletins were posted on-site to advise residents and visitors to leave the large animal alone.
“Please keep your distance. It may look slow and harmless, but it is capable of moving very quickly and could be dangerous if it feels threatened,” the bulletin read.
It explained that all elephant seals take about a month off each year to haul out on land and go through the moulting process, where they shed their fur and underlying of their 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,” the bulletin read. It added that moulting sea lions are often mistaken for animals in distress, but assured that “moulting is a natural process and should not be interfered with.”
Sunday’s seal appeared to have second-guessed itself and chosen another location for its annual shedding as it had vanished from the boat launch by 6 a.m. Monday morning.
Elephant seals can weigh up to 2,300 kg and measure as long as five metres. They are routine sights on the West Coast and also frequent the Strait of Juan De Fuca and Haida Gwaii, the bulletin explained.
Anyone who sees a marine mammal in distress is urged to stay clear of the animal and to report it to Fisheries and Oceans Canada at 1-800-465-4336.