Relocated 4 times, ‘celebrity’ elephant seal returns to Greater Victoria beach yet again

A persistent, 500-pound elephant seal with “celebrity status” on Vancouver Island is back in town.

Fishery officials say they’re shifting tactics after Emerson the elephant seal returned — yet again — to Oak Bay on Friday, just five days after a team removed him from Saanich and dropped him off on west coast of Vancouver Island.

That means two-year-old Emerson traveled an average of 34 kilometres per day back to Greater Victoria, “an incredible feat,” according to fishery officer Morgan Van Kirk with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO).

“I was pretty floored. I got the email on the weekend and said to myself, ‘there’s absolutely no way it could be him already,”’ Van Kirk, who helped relocate Emerson last week, told CBC’s All Points West on Tuesday.

“But, yeah, this is his home and he’s letting us know that.”

Emerson could be seen sunning his round, grey body on McNeill Bay beach right next to a busy walkway in Oak Bay on Tuesday. 

The slippery creature has now been relocated four times after he tried to cross roads, climb stairs and even wandered through garden beds on past visits since last May.

WATCH | Fishery officials ‘floored’ as Emerson returns once again:

Emerson the seal returns — yet again — to Greater Victoria

13 hours ago

Duration 1:38

A beloved, persistent elephant seal has made his way back to moult on an Oak Bay beach, just five days after fishery officials relocated him from Saanich to the west shore of Vancouver Island.

The seal is in the midst of a regenerative process known as moulting that requires an elephant seal to come ashore while its body uses its energy to replace tissues like skin and whiskers all at once, according marine scientist Anna Hall.

Hall says it’s hard to say why Emerson continues to come back but “obviously [this beach] has everything he needs and wants right now.”

“He’s picked a great spot and he’s sticking with it,” Hall told CHEK News.

Close-up of a seal face.
Emerson is moulting, and while he looks happy and content, experts urge the public to stay at least 100 metres away for his safety and that of the community. (CHEK News)

While Van Kirk says his team is in awe of Emerson’s navigation skills and determination, the seal’s apparent habituation to humans and “celebrity status” among locals is raising safety concerns for both him and the community.

Van Kirk says the DFO has received several “egregious” harassment reports of people trying to pet Emerson, approaching him with their animals, and even, in one instance, encouraging a child to touch the seal’s nose.

“That usually never ends well for either people or animals and it can lead to injuries or worse for people or the animal involved,” said Van Kirk.

People found in violation of marine mammal regulations may face fines up to $100,000, he said.

All Points West9:40Emerson the Elephant Seal returns to urban Victoria beach

You can take Emerson the elephant seal out of Victoria, but it seems that he’ll just come right back. Morgan Van Kirk, a fishery officer with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, spoke with CBC’s All Points West about why relocating Emerson to the west coast of the island didn’t take and what concerns remain about his affinity for urban areas.

Van Kirk says the DFO and volunteers with the Marine Mammal Rescue Unit are keeping tabs on Emerson’s location and will only relocate him again, somewhere nearby, if he gets closer to humans or the situation becomes emergent.

The moulting process Emerson is experiencing can be taxing and cause him to lose a fair bit of body weight, Van Kirk said.

“We can’t keep playing the game of cat and mouse with him,” he said. “And since he’s just done this big journey, we don’t want to put too much extra pressure on him in case he does want to come back.”

WATCH | What’s bringing Emerson to the beach, again and again:

Why does Emerson the elephant seal keep returning to land?

11 days ago

Duration 2:16

Emerson the elephant seal, a local celebrity, returned to Saanich on Friday only to be taken away by Fisheries and Oceans Canada. Our Climate and Science Specialist Darius Mahdavi shares why elephant seals haul out to land.

Hall and Van Kirk urged members of the public to keep at least 100 metres from Emerson at all times, and to keep dogs on leash around the beach.

While he may look sleepy and relaxed, Hall says Emerson can move faster than he looks and has large teeth.

“As long as we give him a wide berth and recognize this is a natural process … this is just an opportunity where we get to see one of the amazing sea creatures that is normally many, many miles from land,” she said.


Posted in CBC