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Attention-loving elephant seal returns to moult on the Gorge

Emerson is attracting the usual crowd of onlookers, prompting officials to put up temporary fencing around him

An elephant seal that can’t seem to stay away from Greater Victoria has returned to moult once again in a busy public place.

Emerson the elephant seal is in Saanich this time, and, as usual, he’s attracted a crowd of onlookers, prompting officials to put up temporary fencing around him.

Emerson hauled out of the Gorge Waterway on Monday morning, Paul Cottrell, marine mammal response lead for Fisheries and Oceans Canada, told CHEK News.

“We thought he might show up for his moult, and that’s what it appears. He looks like he’s starting his moult,” Cottrell said.

On Tuesday, he could be seen sunning himself on the grass next to the Gorge.

The two-year-old seal is well known to officials in the U.S. and Canada. He was born in Bowman Bay in Deception Pass State Park in Puget Sound, where volunteers watched over him and he became habituated to people.

He was first spotted on the Island’s shores on a walking path at Whiffin Spit in May 2023.

He was relocated and reappeared near Oak Bay Marina, keeping police officers who were trying to keep him safe on their toes as he climbed stairs and crossed the road before eventually disappearing into the ocean.

The last time he was spotted was September 2023, when he made himself at home under the Songhees Walkway in Victoria West. At one point, he climbed onto the walkway, spooking a pedestrian who happened upon him at night.

The busy location posed safety concerns for the seal and people, so a team herded him onto the beach and into a live bear trap borrowed from conservation officers.

He was moved to an isolated spot but reappeared near a campsite the next day. Officials then moved Emerson to the north coast of the Island.

Elephant seals haul out on land for four to five weeks to moult, shedding not just their fur, but their entire skin. It’s an uncomfortable process that can put the seals in an agitated state, with cracking skin and pus.

It’s important to give the marine mammals as much space as possible during the moult and to keep dogs on leash, animal experts say.

When the animals are spotted in a public area, Fisheries and Oceans Canada officials generally put up caution tape and signs to warn visitors to stay away.

Cottrell told CHEK News he expects people will enjoy another sighting of Emerson and will be glad to know he’s doing well, but he wishes the seal would find a more remote spot to moult.

“We would prefer if he would haul out where he should be, more like Race Rocks or some isolated area where he can do his moult. But he is drawn to people, and his mother was also drawn to people,” he said. “We’re slowly trying to break that bond over time.”

regan-elliott@timescolonist.com