A celebrity seal was moved 125 miles away. He showed up again days later.


After he surfaced on a British Columbia beach this month, Emerson the elephant seal became a local celebrity. Fans petted the 2-year-old, posed with him for selfies and tried to rub noses with him.

Emerson didn’t seem to mind the attention, but Canadian wildlife officials worried that the roughly 500-pound animal might come to feel threatened and attack someone. They relocated him to a beach about 125 miles away, where they hoped he would stay.

A week later, beachgoers in Victoria, B.C., spotted an elephant seal in the ocean. Morgan Van Kirk, a fishery officer for Fisheries and Oceans Canada, doubted Emerson could have glided back that quickly.

He was wrong. Emerson had swum about 20 miles per day to return to his favorite beach.

“He’s obviously made it very clear that he wants to be in the Victoria area,” Van Kirk, whose agency is an arm of the Canadian government, told The Washington Post.

Emerson has been a star since he was born in Washington state in January 2022, receiving attention from visitors and volunteers at the state park where he lived. His mother, Elsie Mae, was already well known for not minding when people at the state park approached her.

Park officials relocated Emerson in April 2022 in an effort to protect him from his human fans until he could return to the water. A spokesman for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which helped transport Emerson, declined to tell the Skagit Valley Herald the seal pup’s new location.

But Emerson returned to the public eye after being spotted on a beach in Victoria in the spring of 2023. He was molting, a rigorous process in which seals shed their fur and underlying skin.

Emerson wandered onto roads and walkways, requiring wildlife officers to direct traffic around him and tape off areas where he was lying, Van Kirk said. He was relocated to two other beaches, Van Kirk said, but he always returned to Victoria.

After officers drove Emerson 260 miles to Tahsis, B.C., in September, he remained out of sight for a while. Officials thought they might have seen the last of him.

But on April 1, Emerson was spotted in a public park in Victoria, prompting wildlife officials to tape off the area and post signs urging people to stay away. He had once again returned to land to molt.

Emerson received more attention than ever as he lay in the middle of public walkways. When he moved, volunteers for Fisheries and Oceans Canada followed him and taped off those areas, too. But people kept approaching him, so officials decided to relocate him — again.

On April 5, more than 100 people watched as five officers tried to lead Emerson toward the back of a van to bring him to a private beach on Vancouver Island. But the seal pup must have recognized the van from the previous year, Van Kirk said, because he resisted for nearly five hours. He budged only after officers brought a different vehicle.

When an elephant seal was spotted off the coast of Victoria a week later, Van Kirk said he couldn’t believe it — Emerson was back. Elephant seals can run on as little as two hours of sleep, but Van Kirk was surprised Emerson swam that fast while molting.

The pup has only grown more popular since his latest resurfacing. Volunteers with Fisheries and Oceans Canada are constantly supervising him, taping off areas to ensure people don’t approach him.

Roxanne Beltran, an ecology and biology professor at the University of California at Santa Cruz, said many elephant seals travel to locations where they feel comfortable — typically their birthplaces — when they begin molting around April. She said it’s still a mystery how elephant seals know how to get back there.

“Something about [Emerson’s] past experiences have informed his decision to stay, and whether that’s the amount of space or the amount of food … he seems to have found a place that he likes,” Beltran said.

Van Kirk said wildlife officials will relocate Emerson again only if people harass him. Approaching Emerson is a safety risk, he said, because elephant seals can carry contagious diseases and weigh more than 4,000 pounds when they’re fully grown.

Emerson is expected to finish molting in a few weeks, and Van Kirk is optimistic that he will then return to the ocean.

“As much as we all like him,” Van Kirk said, “hopefully we never see him again.”

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