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Baby Elephant Seals May Create A Giant Surprise On South Oregon Coast

Published 01/19/22 at 5:10 PM PST
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Baby Elephant Seals May Create A Giant Surprise On South Oregon Coast

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(Oregon Coast) – Even now, this early in the year, you could spot them. Northern elephant seals on the Oregon coast will soon start their pupping season, and sometimes it happens as early as January. (Above: a rare baby elepant seal find on the north coast, courtesy Seaside Aquarium)

According to Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW), this could mean some chance encounters with a baby behemoth. Actual such occurrences are rare, however, and it's more baby harbor seals and molting elephant seals you generally have to worry about a bit later on.

Still, ODFW is putting out a warning message. You could bump into a baby as big as 500 pounds, especially on southern Oregon coast beaches, which are generally more remote than farther north. In fact, you usually don't find newborn elephant seals up north – it's more of a south coast thing at that stage.

“Mother northern elephant seals generally spend only a short time with their pups before ‘parking' them on beaches and leaving to forage,” ODFW said. “From that time on the pups are on their own. This behavior often leads to beach goers stumbling upon these 500+ pound babies on local beaches.”

As comical as that sounds, it can lead to bad consequences for the not-so-wee beasties. Do not approach them, just as with all the other baby seal warnings you hear about along the Oregon coast. Mother could get spooked by your presence and actually leave the little one stranded.

Courtesy Seaside Aquarium

“These young animals will grow, relying on considerable fat reserves, until they are capable of foraging out at sea like their mothers,” ODFW said. “Because they have very little understanding of the dangers that people and other animals can pose to them, the pups often lie on beaches where human traffic is common and not move.”

ODFW said people often see this and think they're looking at a sick or stranded animal that's in trouble, but this is normal behavior.

“In addition, the young pups will slough off skin as they grow and the odor from the skin can be significant,” ODFW said. “This leads people to believe there is something wrong with the pup. There isn't.”

If you think an animal you find is in trouble, or just see one lying around the beach, contact your local ODFW office to report the animal or contact the Marine Mammal Stranding Network an (800) 452-7888. Most importantly, do not approach one of those gigantic elephant seal babies. ODFW or other state authorities will then take appropriate measures to ensure the pup's safety.

Everyone wants one to grow large enough to join other northern elephant seals feeding out at sea, don't they?

Along the south Oregon coast, some rocky areas are perfectly safe spots to watch these seals feed their young – not just elephant seals but sea lions and harbor seals. ODFW suggested to keep a watch from Cape Arago State Park near Coos Bay, where many seals and sea lions use Simpson's Reef and the Shell Island area, seen from the park.

Later in the spring and summer, molting elephant seals become an issue along the entire Oregon coast. Seaside Aquarium's Tiffany Boothe has dealt with those a lot.

“Young elephant seals use the beach while they molt, a process where the seal loses all of its fur and re-grows a new coat,” Boothe said. “Salt water would irritate the sores that they get during their molt, so they choose to haul out of the water.”

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Photo above and below courtesy Haystack Rock Awareness Program, Nala Cardillo

Below, baby harbor seal, courtesy Seaside Aquarium

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