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Yacht club visit nets Emerson a one-way ticket north — again

Too late to meet Princess Anne, the celebrity elephant seal will now finish his moult in the quiet of Nootka Sound

Emerson, the local celebrity elephant seal with a penchant for lying around in very public places in Greater Victoria as he moults his skin and fur, has gone north again.

The socialite seal had been lounging in a parking lot and made his way to the office of the Royal Victoria Yacht Club, where some joked he was either looking for a job as a deckhand or had hopes of meeting Princess Anne, who had been inspecting young sailors during a visit on Sunday.

So Paul Cottrell, the head of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans’ Marine Mammal Unit, loaded Emerson up and took him north to Nootka Sound for a second time — far enough away to finish his annual month-long catastrophic moult and then do what normal elephant seals do — swim and hunt.

Cottrell noted that the two-year-old elephant seal may weigh 500 pounds but he’s still difficult to see against a roadway, and could be hit by vehicles.

“The positive thing is he’s almost finished his moulting, and that nice new grey look is returning,” Cottrell said Thursday. “So he isn’t likely to come back to finish the moult.”

It’s the fifth time that Cottrell has had to intervene with the roving elephant seal over the past two years.

He’s had to be relocated from a dog park in Whiffen Spit and a campground at Jordan River, but always makes his way to public places, said Cottrell.

Last September, Emerson hauled out on the Songhees Walkway in front of a senior on a mobility scooter. He was loaded in a bear trap and taken to Nootka Sound, only to return April 1 in the Gorge Waterway, where he spent time on the grass and then ventured into the bike lane and the road.

DFO rounded him up again and took him to Barkley Sound near Ucluelet. But six days later, Emerson was back, first on Gonzales Beach, then McNeill Bay and Kitty Islet before heading to Oak Bay Marina, where he did his first moult a year ago.

Cottrell said Emerson has become habituated to people, but not because anyone is feeding him. He just seems to like being around humans, which is unusual, he said.

“He’s pretty chill and definitely a unique case,” said Cottrell, adding there’s a good chance Emerson will return to Greater Victoria — likely Oak Bay — next year for his moult, a few hundred pounds heavier.

Elephant seals can take up to a decade to reach sexual maturity and even longer to become a “beachmaster” with a collection of females to breed, said Cottrell.

Cottrell said DFO is thankful for the more than two dozen volunteers who have watched over Emerson and educated the public during his moulting time in Oak Bay. “Without them, the outcomes could have been different,” he said.

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