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Elephant seal reportedly fleeing off-leash dogs rescued from side of Saanich highway

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A wayward elephant seal that was spotted off the side of the Trans-Canada Highway in Saanich was safely relocated by police and Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) on Monday.

Saanich police say they received a report of the seal lying in an embankment on the side of the highway near Burnside Road West just after 1 p.m.

Police passed the information on to Fisheries and Oceans Canada, and officers with Saanich police and the DFO met at the side of the highway.

The groups then worked together to move the moulting elephant seal to the nearby Colquitz Creek.

"The poor thing was super tired," said Mandy Ludlow, a DFO officer and detachment commander for southern Vancouver Island.

Ludlow says it was a difficult operation escorting the approximately 250 to 285 pound seal back to the waters of Colquitz Creek.

The fishery officer says the seal was spooked from its moulting spot near the creek by off-leash dogs and humans.

"It hauled out of Colquitz Creek, according to witnesses, because people and off-leash dogs were coming up to it, which triggers a response to the animal to get the heck out of there," she said.

"So the poor thing hauled across the long flat area, across a bank and stumps, across a walking trail, and then across another bank and another walking trail – and it was accosted by dogs again," said Ludlow.

The fishery officer estimates that the DFO and Saanich police officers spent about three hours trying to coax the seal back along the path it came from, and that dogs continued to pester the marine mammal.

"During that time there were several off-leash dogs that came and disturbed it," she said.

"I was pretty disappointed. One owner didn't even have a leash and armed officers were trying to tell the owner to get it under control, and it really wasn't," she added.

Ludlow says she'll be following up with the District of Saanich about animal control in the area, since other wildlife, such as migratory birds, also take sanctuary in the region.

She urges people to respect wildlife and to keep their pets under control.

Elephant seals usually spend one month each year coming on shore to moult.

Moulting involves shedding all of the seal's fur and underlying layer of skin, according to the DFO website.

During this time, the seals can look sickly and lose up to 25 per cent of their body weight. However, the process is normal, according to Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

People who see a moulting elephant seal should keep their distance and not bother the animal.

"It may look slow and harmless, but [the seal] is capable of moving very quickly and could be dangerous if it feels threatened," reads the DFO website.

"If you see an animal being harassed or injured or an injured or sick animal exhibiting highly unusual behaviour, please call DFO’s Observe, Record and Report 24-hour hotline at 1-800-465-4336."

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