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Gov't Shutdown Brings Elephant Seals To Point Reyes Beach

POINT REYES (KPIX 5) -- During the course of the government shutdown, trash was piling up in national parks across America. At Point Reyes National Seashore, it was elephant seals.

"I've not seen anything like this here with these numbers," said park spokesperson John Dell'Osso. "An occasional rogue elephant seal yes, but nothing like this."

The large herd at Drake's Beach is the product of several circumstances. Strong storms and high tides probably limited the amount of beach space available for the 50 to 60 adult seals looking for a space for pup season.

The Ken Patrick Visitor Center provided a large enough space and it was virtually deserted during the government shutdown. It was a practical and quiet place for this herd to land, and they will likely stay for a while.

"Now we have some 35 to 40 pups that have been born on the beach and will be nursing from their mothers for the next couple of months," Dell'Osso explains.

elephant seals (CBS)
Elephant seals on the sands of Point Reyes. (CBS)

The National Park Service decided to close the visitor's center parking area and the road that leads to it to prevent any problems, but they're trying to figure out how to allow some public access here without large crowds, which might unsettle any anxious mom or dad seals.

"I just want to caution the public to be patient with us, as were trying to work our way through this," Dell'Osso said of the crowd control plans. "Whatever we do this weekend, next weekend could be different."

The elephant seal herd is both a wildlife viewing opportunity and a wildlife protection challenge, and maybe not just in the short term. There's a possibility the herd could return next year. Another spot in California where this is more common is Anyo Nuevo.

Point Reyes rangers have been calling experts from there, trying to learn more about how to deal with a large population of elephant seals and the humans to want to see them. Public access plans for Drake's Beach will be announced before the coming weekend.

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