Seals take over California beach that was closed during government shutdown

By Christopher Brito

/ CBS News

Seals take over California beach

Dozens of elephant seals have taken over a beach in California that was closed during the longest government shutdown in U.S. history. The new residents waddled their way onto Drakes Beach at Point Reyes National Seashore just in time for pup season, CBS San Francisco reports.

During the course of the 35-day shutdown, trash was piling up in national parks across America, but the scene was much different –– and noisier –– at Drakes Beach.

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

The large herd at Drakes Beach is the result of a combination of 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, providing a practical and quiet place for this herd to land. Park officials believe 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 said.

Dozens of elephant seals have taken over a beach at California's Point Reyes National Seashore that was closed during the government shutdown. CBS San Francisco

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. "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 Año Nuevo State Rerserve, about two hours to the south. 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 who want to see them.

First published on January 31, 2019

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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