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Elephant seals like one in Cadboro Bay an increasingly common sight

Officials set up caution tape around the two-year-old elephant seal Saturday in Cadboro Bay
An elephant seal that spent the weekend up on the beach in Cadboro Bay was likely washed back into the ocean Monday during heavy winds and big waves. DEBBIE AUSTEN VIA DEPARTMENT OF FISHERIES AND OCEANS

Elephant seals like the one that attracted attention in Cadboro Bay on the weekend are becoming more common in B.C. waters, expanding their range north, says a marine mammal expert.

Officials set up caution tape around the two-year-old elephant seal Saturday after receiving a report that it had hauled up on the beach in an area busy with people and dogs, said Paul Cottrell, marine mammal co-ordinator for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

The seal likely slipped back into the ocean after powerful waves in the area Monday, Cottrell said. The animal wasn’t moulting and might have just been taking a break from foraging, Cottrell said. Elephant seals usually pick isolated locations to haul out of the water, but younger ones “tend to pick strange spots,” he said.

The animal, who was tagged as a pup in a colony south of San Francisco, was also spotted in April and May off the coast of the U.S., Cottrell said.

DFO is aware of other elephant seals around the B.C. coast currently, including one on Mayne Island and another that has been in Tofino for the last two weeks, he said.

“We’re seeing more and more young ones and these young ones tend to end up in not necessarily isolated spots,” he said.

The seal that was in Cadboro Bay could show up again nearby, but Cottrell is hoping he’ll find a spot a little farther away from people if he does return.

The marine mammal response team was kept busy last year with a young elephant seal known as Emerson, who had to be moved several times after coming ashore in places busy with pedestrians.

Emerson was born in Bowman Bay in Deception Pass State Park in Puget Sound, where a group of volunteers watched over the young seal and he became habituated to people.

He first showed up at Whiffin Spit in May and was relocated, before showing up again near Oak Bay Marina, keeping police on their toes as he climbed stairs and crossed the road. He eventually swam away.

In September, Emerson showed up again, this time under the Songhees Walkway in Victoria West, Cottrell said. “He was doing his antics and interacting with logs and making noises at the folks and it appeared that he was actively interacting.”

At one point, the 450-pound seal climbed onto the pedestrian path, which posed safety concerns, especially at night, when someone happened upon the seal in the dark, Cottrell said.

A team herded him down on to the beach and into a live bear trap borrowed from conservation officers. They moved him to a more isolated spot, but he turned up the next day near a campsite.

He was moved once more to the north coast of the Island, and hasn’t been reported since, Cottrell said. He’s not sure that will be the last of him, though.

“He’s a character. … I wouldn’t be surprised if he shows up when he’s going to moult,” he said.

The public is asked report any injured, distressed or entangled marine mammals, or animals in vulnerable spots, by calling 1-800-465-4336.

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