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Emerson’s celebrity grows as the Victoria seal thwarts relocation efforts

Efforts followed harassment reports, including of a child being encouraged to touch noses with the seal
Emerson the elephant seal has made his way back to Greater Victoria after a failed relocation effort to take him to a remote beach up-Island. (Mark Page/News Staff)

Emerson is back in town, with the celebrity seal swimming an astonishing 34 kilometres per day back to the Victoria area, thwarting efforts of fisheries officers to move him on to safer shores up north.

The relocation effort followed several incidents of harassment, including a report of a child being encouraged to crawl into a roped-off area and touch noses with the marine mammal.

“The potential for injuries is massive,” said Morgan Van Kirk, a fishery officer with Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO). “Emerson’s larger than a black bear, and is a wild animal.”

He added that seals carry a lot of communicable diseases as well that can be passed to humans.

“So there’s multiple reasons why that is absolutely not OK.”

The DFO would like to keep the name of the Greater Victoria beach where Emerson has taken up residence as much of a secret as they can to limit this type of harassment.

Van Kirk said Emerson is about two years old and is currently moulting, which involves the shedding of skin. The animals generally prefer to be alone and stay on land during the process, just dozing and tossing sand on themselves to keep cool. They also won’t eat during the moult, losing up to 25 per cent of their body weight.

As part of the relocation team, Van Kirk said he thought Emerson would be happy in the Barkley Sound Beach the team had plopped him on.

“We delivered him right to a perfect quiet beach up there,” Van Kirk said. “And we were really hoping that he would stay put for the for the remainder of this moult, but he had other plans.”

Van Kirk was not too surprised though. Emerson has already been relocated four or five times.

The seal swimming back in just six days was a bit of a shock, though.

“I don’t think anyone thought he’d get back as quick as he did,” Van Kirk said. “That definitely speaks to how incredible they are … just the fact that he knew exactly where to go to come back here.”

To get Emerson out to Barkley Sound, Van Kirk said it took five fishery officers to coax the animal onto a flatbed trailer for the drive up-Island. No sedatives were used in the process, but they did have marine mammal rescue experts on standby in case anything went wrong.

Though Emerson is a juvenile, he is already about 500 pounds, but is expected to get much larger, up to 4,000 to 5,000 pounds. He will also eventually develop the characteristic elephant seal “trunk” as he grows older.

Marine mammals are protected, meaning people can get large fines for disturbing the creatures. Van Kirk said there is no set distance for people to stay away, but if the animal is being disturbed, it is too close.

And any touching — by nose or otherwise — is way outside the limits.

The DFO has some help monitoring the situation from some local volunteers, but if people see any issues with marine mammals being harmed or harassed they are encouraging people to call and report incidents at 800-465-4336.

READ MORE: Greater Victoria welcomes juvenile elephant seal

About the Author: Mark Page

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