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Dead Oregon Coast Seal Illustrates Need to
Beach, Oregon) - An elephant seal on the north Oregon coast had officials
quite concerned this week, as it lay on the beach, in the painful process
of molting. Crews from the Marine Mammal Stranding Network had to stay
quite vigilant in trying keep onlookers away and preventing well-meaning
people from doing the wrong thing: trying to help.
The last thing this creature needed was human intervention
of any kind.
Then, however, the seal died on Sunday night.
|This elephant seal was found molting two years ago in
Manzanita (photo Tiffany Boothe, Seaside Aquarium)
“The elephant seal that has been resting for several
days near Haystack Rock in Cannon Beach passed away late last night,”
said Seaside Aquarium’s Tiffany Boothe on Monday, who is also part
of the Marine Mammal Stranding Network. “The seal was first brought
to the attention of aquarium staff on May 7th. It is not uncommon to see
elephant seals in this area. Often the yearlings will rest on local beaches
while they molt. Molting is a very painful and lengthy process where the
seal sheds all its fur.
“Sadly this elephant seal was different from most
we see. It was sick. Marine Mammal officials came down today to recover
the animal and a necropsy will be done later this week.”
Aquarium manager Keith Chandler small crowds gathered
around the creature to stare in empathy, which landed in a heavy traffic
spot in the Tolovana Beach section of Cannon Beach. This was a recipe
for major problems, as seals in the molting process need to find a place
away from humans.
“They were all concerned, and everybody wanted to
help, but it’s probably not the best location if you want peace
and quiet,” Chandler said. “You’re not going to get
it in front of Mo’s. It showed up in a really high profile spot.
That’s just the bad luck of the draw.”
|Elephant Seal in Manzanita (photo Boothe). Molting season
happens now through the fall, so expect to see more of these on Oregon
Chandler said it was likely the tide had washed the seal
up at that place, and that it didn’t have much choice where it landed
because it was quite ill.
There are various reasons for concern in a situation involving
people and animals washing up.
“We’re always concerned for their safety,”
Chandler said. “They may be slow, not feeling well and lethargic,
but they can still deliver a powerful bite and injure a person. There’s
also the worry about dogs. They can get sick from coming into contact
with an elephant seal.”
first, Chandler and the crew thought it was a particularly heavy dose
of molting, as the thing looked in pretty bad shape. He said he’s
often tempted to think a molting animal like this is in trouble, but he
winds up surprised almost every time when the creature is gone back to
the sea after a few days to two weeks.
|Other things you should leave alone on the
beach: cute baby seals, which are showing up now through fall as well
“As with every animal, we give it a chance to get
better,” Chandler said. “We leave it alone. But this one was
actually quite sick.”
Well-meaning people try to help, but if they don’t
know what to do, they can be hurting more than ever. Unless you have some
training in this field, it’s best to assume you won’t know
what to do.
Chandler said people often make things worse when doing
anything at all.
“They tend to bring buckets of water and pour it
on the seal, thinking that will help,” Chandler said. “But
that’s exactly the opposite of what you’re supposed to do.
They come to the beach to get away from the saltwater, as that hurts them
while they’re molting. If they stay on the beach, their body temperature
will rise, and that helps them through the molting. People mean well,
but they don’t know they’re just making it a lot worse.”
|Marine Mammal Stranding Network staff deal with a seal
carcass in Seaside in November
Boothe said that unlike most seals, elephant seals spend
most of their time in the sea.
“In fact, nearly 90 percent of their time is spent
in the water,” she said. “Males can spend up to 300 days a
year in the ocean; females spend an average of 250 days. They can make
deep long dive which average 20 to 40 minutes. But they have been observed
diving for up to 70 minutes.”
Their main diet consists of cephalopods.
Boothe said Elephant seals were hunted to near extinction
in the 1800's for their blubber, leaving only 100 to 1,000 individual
animals remaining. Since their protection, their numbers have increased
and today their population has almost been restored to historic levels.
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