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Government Shutdown Causes Elephant Seals to Thrive

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Government Shutdown Causes Elephant Seals to Thrive

Emily Chen, Staff Writer

The absence of park officials at Drakes Beach, California, caused by the recent government shutdown has allowed local elephant seals to flourish. While the beach was unsupervised and closed to visitors, herds of seals moved to the shore to give birth and raise their young.

Elephant seals are the largest species of seal in the world. They have long, sharp teeth, and can weigh from 3,000 to 5,000 pounds. The mammals are native to the West Coast, and travel in massive groups called “colonies”. Elephant seal colonies regularly lounge on California’s vast, sandy beaches. However, colonies have been deterred from staying at Drakes Beach in particular due to its popularity with tourists. The park officials who supervise Drakes Beach discourage the elephant seals from staying there by waving blue tarps at them. According to John Dell’Osso, chief of interpretation and resource education for the seashore, waving tarps “doesn’t scare them, and it’s a standard technique used with elephant seals. This would have kept them farther away from tourists.” This puts beachgoers out of danger of coming face to face with the gigantic mammals and gives the elephant seals the space they need to live peacefully.

During the 35 day United States federal government shutdown, around 800,000 government workers were furloughed. Park officials, such as the ones who worked at Drakes Beach, were among those workers. The beach was closed to the public during the shutdown due to the absence of employees. Elephant seals in the area took advantage of the now empty beach and claimed it as their own. Over the weeks that Drakes Beach was devoid of human visitors, dozens of seals traveled to the site to breed, give birth, and raise their pups.

After the government shutdown ended, a colony of about 90 elephant seals was occupying Drakes Beach. Returning park officials decided against attempting to relocate the huge population of seals. Many of them were pregnant females and newborn pups, and trying to ward them off would be too great of a disturbance to wildlife and too challenging to attempt. They decided to close the beach once again as a safety precaution for both humans and the seals. The National Parks Service website reads, “Drakes Beach and its access road… are temporarily closed to all vehicle, foot and bicycle traffic due to elephant seal activity in the area.” The officials are considering the possibility of keeping the beach closed and turning it into an elephant seal viewing area.

 

Photo courtesy of LIFEANDSOULMAGAZINE.COM

 

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Government Shutdown Causes Elephant Seals to Thrive