A northern elephant seal on a beach in Point Reyes National Seashore. <a href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mirounga_angustirostris,_Point_Reyes.jpg#/media/File:Mirounga_angustirostris,_Point_Reyes.jpg" target="_blank">Frank Schulenburg/Wikimedia</a>
A northern elephant seal on a beach in Point Reyes National Seashore. (Frank Schulenburg/Wikimedia)

Point Reyes Beach Taken Over by Elephant Seals During Shutdown to Reopen for Viewing

Point Reyes Beach Taken Over by Elephant Seals During Shutdown to Reopen for Viewing

Updated Friday, Feb. 1, at 12:45 p.m.

Tourists unable to visit a popular beach in Northern California that was taken over by a colony of nursing elephant seals during the government shutdown will be able to get an up-close view of the creatures, officials said Friday.

Point Reyes National Seashore rangers and volunteer docents will lead small groups of visitors starting Saturday to the edge of a parking lot so they can safely see the elephant seals and their newborn pups, said park spokesman John Dell'Osso.

About 60 adult seals that gave birth to 35 pups took over Drakes Beach during the 35-day government shutdown, leading park officials to close access to the beach.

It's likely that recent storms and high tides inundated the animal's normal habitat, and so they sought a wider swath of dry land around the corner, Dell'Osso said.

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He said the guided tours will be an opportunity for visitors to witness the recovery of a once-threatened species from about 40 yards away.

Visitors can normally view the seals from an overlook at Chimney Rock, often with assistance from volunteer docents who provide binoculars and spotting scopes as well as interpretive materials.

"This is a great story about the recovery of a species," he said.

Dell'Osso said a large winter storm is forecast for this weekend and that may keep people away, but officials will decide next week if the weekend tours will continue.

Elephant seals began appearing at the seashore in the 1970s after an absence of more than 150 years. The marine mammals spend most of their lives out in the ocean but return to shore each winter to birth pups and breed and, later, in spring or summer, to molt, the Press Democrat reported.

Original Post, Jan. 30: When the government goes away, the elephant seals will play.

That's at least what happened at Point Reyes National Seashore during the government shutdown earlier this month, when no staff members were on duty to ward off a colony of the large marine mammals from congregating on a popular beach, officials said.

About 60 adult seals that have birthed 35 pups took over Drakes Beach by knocking down a fence and moving into the parking lot, the San Francisco Chronicle reported Wednesday. The seals continued lounging in the sand after the park reopened on Sunday, prompting park staff to close the beach and the road leading to it from Sir Francis Drake Boulevard.

The park north of San Francisco is home to a colony of about 1,500 elephant seals that tend to frequent another nearby beach with 100-foot-tall cliffs that keep the animals protected and mostly hidden from the public, said park spokesman John Dell'Osso.

Dell'Osso said it's likely the recent storms and high tides inundated their normal gathering spot with water, and so they sought a wider swath of dry land nearby.

"Sometimes you go out with tarps and you shake the tarps, and it annoys them and they move the other direction," he said.

But because nobody was at work to address the seal migration, the animals took over. One seal even ventured under a picnic table near a cafe, the Chronicle reported.

Officials have no plans to try to move the elephant seals, as some are still nursing their pups. But Dell'Osso said the park is considering offering guided tours of the colony.

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