Baby elephant seals eat, sleep and cuddle at the Piedras Blancas rookery
Hikers walking along the north end of the Boucher Trail heard a pup barking. They found her tangled in a pile of driftwood in a ravine. On Wednesday, Jan. 25, she became the first elephant seal pup of the 2017 season to be rescued by volunteers for The Marine Mammal Center in San Luis Obispo County.
The hikers called State Parks to report the seal, who then called The Marine Mammal Center’s San Luis Obispo Operations Center in Morro Bay. A team of five trained volunteers set off to find the pup.
The ranger helpfully left an orange cone on the highway next to the spot where the pup was stranded.
“Otherwise, it can be very difficult to find the exact place where a seal is stranded,” said San Luis Obispo Operations Manager Diana Kramer.
The crew hiked down the trail and found the pup. No other animals were nearby, and the mother was not located. Too young to survive on its own, and finding the conditions safe to perform a rescue, they made their way over to the animal.
Using herding boards, the trained rescue volunteers maneuvered the elephant seal pup into the large animal carrier. Volunteers at the center handle the pups as little as possible, improving the pup’s chances of being able to return to its wild home in the future.
After the successful rescue, the hikers named the elephant seal Stormy Night. She weighed a healthy 65 pounds, about normal for a newborn.
The pup was covered with black fur they are born with. Elephant seal pups lose their “blackcoat” after about 28 days of nursing. She had some blubber, so she’d had some attention from her mother before they were separated. Stormy Night also had a scrape on her head but was otherwise uninjured.
When Kramer and another volunteer crew member arrived for night duty at 7:30 pm, the pup was barking. Without knowing how long it had been since the pup had last eaten, the trained rescuers tube-fed Stormy Night electrolytes to boost hydration. The pup responded well to the tube-feeding and will soon start on a smoothie-like mixture of sustainable caught Alaskan herring, milk powder and water.
Stormy Night was later transported to the center’s main hospital in Sausalito on Friday morning, Jan. 27.
Kramer reminds the public that seal and sea lion pups are likely to become stranded on local beaches in the coming months. The best thing for people to do is to keep their distance. It’s OK to take photos and admire the animals, but people should remember to keep a safe distance of at least 150 feet.
Anyone who sees a seal or sea lion in distress in San Luis Obispo County should call our rescue and response team in Morro Bay at (805) 771-8300. The center will monitor the pup for 24 hours or more, depending on the situation and, if necessary, trained volunteers and staff will rescue it safely.