When elephant seals venture onto Drakes Beach, a scenic destination in California’s Point Reyes National Seashore, wildlife management workers typically shoo them away by shaking blue tarps in their direction. It doesn’t scare the seals, John Dell'Osso, chief of interpretation and resource education for the seashore, tells Amy Graff of SF Gate; it just annoys them, and helps keep the animals safe from humans, and vice versa. But during the longest government shutdown in United States history, there wasn’t enough National Parks staff on hand to stop elephant seals from plopping down onto the beach. And now the seals have taken over.
Nearly 100 females, their pups and a few males have settled on Drakes Beach, according to the Guardian’s Alissa Greenberg. The chunky pinnipeds—males can weigh up to 8,800 pounds—have crushed wooden railings, and even been so bold as to venture into the parking lot. At least two adult bulls were seen hanging out under a picnic table and lounging on the accessible ramp leading to a visitors’ center.
Park officials have had no choice but to temporarily close the beach to human visitors. They don’t want to push the seals away because females have been giving birth on their newly colonized land. “They’re at a critical time: the pups have been born there, they’re nursing,” Dell'Osso tells Greenberg. “We’re not going to disrupt that process.”
Point Reyes is home to around 1,500 elephant seals, which usually stick to Chimney Beach, a secluded area surrounded by 100-foot-tall cliffs. But recent storms and extreme tides around Chimney Beach may have prompted the animals to look for a drier spot to rest. Fortunately for the seals, their venture coincided with the shutdown, which saw some 380,000 government workers furloughed—including much of the seashore’s employees, who would otherwise be monitoring Drakes Beach with their seal-repelling tarps. So the seals came, they saw and they conquered.
It seems that the animals will leave when it pleases them—likely in April, when the pups have been weaned. While Drakes Beach will remain closed until further notice, the park has reopened the road leading to the area, and docents are on hand to guide visitors in safe elephant seal viewing. But the park notes that “[a]ccess may change based upon elephant seal activity,” lest we forget who rules the beach now.