What appears to be a dead bull elephant seal with major head damage from a possible shark attack has washed ashore north of Morro Bay, about 25 miles south of Piedras Blancas rookery.
“It looks like there was quite a big of damage to the head (and) there are some bite areas toward the top of the neck. Something like that has got to be a shark bite,” said William Goodger, a docent with Friends of the Elephant Seal, who examined pictures of the mammal.
He said the seal is likely one of the adult males who return to the rookery this time of year from Alaska for molting season. This one may have come into contact with a shark migrating north.
The seal’s skull is nearly entirely stripped of flesh, while the rest of the body is not as decomposed. That indicates that the animal suffered a head injury that led to further decomposition, Goodger said.
The body will be left to rot on a beach between North Point Natural Area and Toro Creek, on a stretch of sand frequented by dogs off leash.
Dead elephant seals found in the area are generally malnourished pups who don’t have enough strength and wash ashore in March or April, or pups that suffered a shark-inflicted wound, Goodger said.
Great whites come in from areas offshore to feed on expanding populations of elephant seals, which Stanford researchers likened to “going to an Outback Steakhouse.”
Attacks on large adult seals are less frequent, though another adult bull was seen earlier this year with a fresh shark bite.
Brian Hatfield, wildlife biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey at Piedras Blancas, north of San Simeon, described that incident as “unusual but not unheard of.”
Big bull elephant seals can be formidable foes for sharks: “They’re massive and have big teeth,” Blancas said.