A family of northern elephant seals that frequents the North Whidbey area grew by one pup last week.
The herd’s newest seal was born on Jan. 31 at Bowman Bay in Deception Pass State Park and is the first member of a new generation in the family.
To maintain the health and safety of the mother and baby, park staff have closed the Bowman Bay boat launch to all visitors, and the Bowman Bay day-use area is closed to pets. Visitors hiking the Rosario Head and Lighthouse loop will find some temporary detours around the area.
A map showing the closed areas can be found on the Washington State Parks website. Northern elephant seals are a federally protected species, and it is illegal to disturb marine mammals, which means that park visitors must stay at least 50 yards away from them.
Deception Pass Area Manager Jason Armstrong said the closure is tentatively set for around 15 weeks, though that timeline is subject to change if the pup leaves early or relocates.
Garry Heinrich, the area response coordinator for the Central Puget Sound Marine Mammal Stranding Network, said the herd’s regular visits to the Whidbey area began in 2010 when the new pup’s grandmother, Ellie, first wandered to the island alone to molt. Ellie returned to the Whidbey and Fidalgo area several times over the years and gave birth to her first baby in 2015. She has since had three more pups.
Ellie’s second baby, a female named Elsie Mae, is the mother of the newest pup. This is Elsie Mae’s first baby. Experts have not yet determined the gender of the pup or given it a name.
The seal family’s visit to the area likely won’t last long. Northern elephant seals spend most of their lives at sea, coming ashore only to breed, give birth or molt, and are known to migrate thousands of miles. Heinrich said though it is difficult to determine exactly when this seal family might come back, the group appears “to be establishing a pattern that they return to,” especially Elsie Mae.
“She has come back to this same beach in Deception Pass State Park before. I think she’s been there now three times, so there’s some familiarity to the area that these elephant seals come back to,” he said. “This is really kind of new. There have been sightings of elephant seals in Puget Sound before. Nothing quite like in this pattern.”