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Baby Elephant Seal Rescued at Moonlight Beach

At Moonlight Beach in Encinitas, three California Elephant Seals have been rescued in the past week.

It's springtime, and that means baby animals. But for the pregnant animals, it sometimes means giving the boot to their older offspring. At beaches across San Diego, this means an uptick in seal rescues. KPBS video journalist Katie Euphrat was at Moonlight Beach in Encinitas when lifeguards rescued a dehydrated young elephant seal yesterday.

It’s springtime, birthing season. But for pregnant animal mothers, it sometimes means giving the boot to their older offspring. At beaches across San Diego, lifeguards have noted a rise in seal rescues. Just in the past week, three California elephant seals have been rescued from Moonlight State Beach in Encinitas. The most recent seal rescue happened Sunday, when I was at Moonlight Beach with my family.

Encinitas Marine Safety Sergeant Robert Veria got a report of a beached seal early Sunday afternoon. He loaded his beach vehicle with a large net and the type of kennel-carrier usually used for large dogs.

"Like any wild animal, it fights and resists," said Veria. "In this case, it did spin its head around. I basically captured it from behind almost like the way you would grab a cat: Behind the neck, trying to avoid those teeth coming around the backside."

Seals' jaws are made for crushing things, Veria explained, so you should avoid approaching them at all times. He recommends you immediately notify a lifeguard if you find any injured animal at the beach.

"They may have some disease going on that you may not want to get," Veria said. "And then you have the Marine Mammal Act of 1974, which prohibits you from interacting with the animal."

Once Veria had the elephant seal secured in the carrier, he brought it back to the lifeguard tower, where children ran to see what he had caught, and curious adults asked questions for more than an hour.

"This is a yearling California Sea Elephant. If it’s a male, he’s going to grow to approximately a ton and a half in weight -- about as big as this vehicle here," Veria explained as he pointed to his beach cruiser.

Before answering any more questions, he made a call to SeaWorld.

Less than an hour later, SeaWorld Animal Care Specialist Mike Glenn pulled up in a pickup truck with a large cage.

“We’ll take it back to Sea World and give it lots of fluids and we’ll have the veterinarian look at it," Glenn said. "The goal is rehabilitation for release to the sea for a second chance at life.”

This is common during Spring for young elephant seals, like the rescued year-old one in the kennel; because the mother seals are pregnant again, they often chase away their older offspring. If the young seals haven't learned to hunt properly, they become malnourished and dehydrated because the squid they eat is also their main source of water. When a young seal is dehydrated, it beaches itself to rest. That's when Veria can swoop in to capture it for rehabilitation at SeaWorld.

“We’ve captured two (other) yearlings this past week, and those also went to SeaWorld," Veria said. "And they’re happening all over. Talking to SeaWorld, they’ve been up in Carlsbad, Oceanside, Camp Pendleton.

SeaWorld's Mike Glenn said: "We have picked up thirteen in 2012."

But Veria said this one seal's outlook is promising.

“I’ve seen worse. I’ve seen where the bones are showing in the back and so forth, so this little guy is probably going to do pretty well."

Video by Katie Euphrat

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