Boardwalks, fences and other infrastructure at the roadside Piedras Blancas elephant seal rookery north of San Simeon are designed to maintain protective distance between thousands of massive marine mammals and the hordes of people who stop to see the seals.
Getting the keep-away message to the elephant seals is tough, however, as was demonstrated Sunday morning, Dec. 27, when a large, sub-adult male seal broke through a fence barrier and galumphed up onto one of the boardwalk areas normally reserved for humans.
State Park Ranger Kyle Brady said rescuers estimated the seal weighed about 4,000 pounds. Officials presume the male was chased onto the boardwalk by a larger bull defending his harem and turf.
At this busy time of year at the rookery, people can watch the seals doze, give birth, snooze, breed, nap, nurse their young, fight and roar (the males) and rest some more. They do a lot of sleeping.
Sunday, the big-boy escapee slithered and scrunched himself about 300 yards up the southern boardwalk and into the information area about 60 feet from the parking lot, then took a nap. Officials strung yellow caution tape and closed the area to humans about 10:30 a.m., Brady said.
The northern viewing area remained open for the holiday-weekend crowds.
Friends of the Elephant Seal docents also notified State Parks officials and sent for trained volunteer rescuers from The Marine Mammal Center (TMMC), according to docent Donovan Marley.
According to TMMC’s Kelsey Bickert, volunteers there included Lois Petty, Sharon Deos, Kathy Krueger, Kathy Hudson, Rod Helm, Winter Lee Scriven and Leroy Padilla.
It looked like a textbook seal herding to me. I always bring the camera, because you just never know.
Linda Dron of Morro Bay
About 1:30 p.m., State Parks maintenance crews removed some boards from the walkway.
Then TMMC rescuers with herding boards nudged and coaxed the wandering e-seal toward the ravine-type opening in the soft gully, Brady said in an interview Tuesday, Dec. 29.
Once the seal turned and went through the new hole, back down to the beach, maintenance quickly put the boards back and repaired the damaged fence to prevent a repeat escape.
The final relocation procedure probably took about 10 minutes, Brady estimated.
“It looked like a textbook seal herding to me,” said Linda Dron of Morro Bay, who was visiting the rookery with her husband during a day-trip to Cambria.
Dron photographed a lot of the relocation. “I always bring the camera, because you just never know,” she said of her Canon SX50 with a 50x zoom lens, which allowed her to get good shots without getting in the way of the rescuers or the retreating e-seal.
“Everybody has to stay safe,” she said.