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'Barnacle Bill' Seal Makes a Splash Around Oregon Coast for Two Weeks

Published 06/06/21 at 5:30 PM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

(Cannon Beach, Oregon) – It's molting season again on the Oregon coast for elephant seals, and that means humans will witness a rather painful process on occasion as young seals come up out of the water with patchy fur and skin that is clearly irritated. (All photos courtesy Seaside Aquarium)

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However, that doesn't mean that some of them can't wind up entertaining or even endearing. With shades of the Joe the Sea Lion from Lincoln City history (where a sea lion briefly became a local citizen back in the ‘30s), one elephant seal on the north Oregon coast had a few public adventures and even got the name Barnacle Bill.

Barnacle Bill (as he was dubbed by someone) created a stir starting in mid May, according to the Seaside Aquarium's Tiffany Boothe. Especially over the Memorial Day weekend, after he plopped himself near busy Haystack in Cannon Beach he became a bit of a rock star – becoming quite popular. Boothe said he filled onlookers with concern for his well-being.

According to Boothe, Barnacle Bill first showed up on Falcon Cove beach on May 17, a small, semi-circular beach immediately south of Arch Cape.

“While he was lively, he did not look so good,” Boothe said. “He was going through his annual molt which is a process where he sheds his old coat of fur and grows a new one. During this process large hunks of skin will often come off along with the old fur. This can create large sores and open wounds, but it is a natural process. He also had patches of pelagic gooseneck barnacles growing on his back and flippers, hence his new name ‘Barnacle Bill.' “

Saltwater irritates the wounds created by molting, so elephant seals haul out of the sea to get some much-needed rest. It also helps the regulate their body temperature. This is exactly what Mr. Bill was doing, Boothe said.

'Barnacle Bill' Seal Makes a Splash Around Oregon Coast for Two Weeks

After Falcon Cove, he inched his way northward to Arch Cape on May 20, and then by May 23 he was headed down to Rockaway Beach, hanging out at the more secluded Nedonna Beach.

Then, was he looking for more attention? Boothe mused about that, saying he arrived at Cannon Beach for the big Memorial Day weekend, camping out in front of Haystack Rock.

“Staff from the Haystack Rock Awareness Program did a wonderful job watching over him, making sure people and dogs did not disturb his peace,” Boothe said. “They also educated people about him, alleviating fears that he was dying and needed help.”

After that, Barnacle Bill wandered southward again, discovering Manzanita.

“By this time some of his open sores from the molting process had started to heal and was beginning to look more like a ‘normal' seal again,” Boothe said.

Finally, on June 1 Bill left the Oregon coast beaches for good.

“Over the two weeks that he visited we received a lot of calls from concerned citizens and with the help of State Parks and the Haystack Rock Awareness Program we were able to educate people about the natural process of molting and help give him the space and rest he needed to heal and get better,” Boothe said. “We are so thankful for all our partners and this wonderful community.”

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Below, other elephant seal strandings in the past, courtesy Seaside Aquarium


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