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Wily Coyote, One of First Elephant Seal Pups On-Site in 2014

This elephant seal pup got herself into some trouble when she left the beach, hit the highway and ran into a coyote by the side of the road.

April 3, 2014

Coyote, a northern elephant seal, is released at Tennessee Beach in the Marin Headlands.
© Beth Huning, National Park Service


Coyote was one of the first elephant seal pups admitted to The Marine Mammal Center in 2014, and she’s now the first to be released back to her ocean home. After gaining a good amount of weight and proving she could forage for food on her own, Coyote was given a clean bill of health. She was taken to Tennessee Beach in the Marin Headlands, where she headed straight for the waves.

February 27, 2014

Coyote goes to fish school.
© Sarah van Schagen - The Marine Mammal Center


Imagine biking along the highway and coming across a coyote harassing a seal pup by the side of the road. What would you do?

That exact scenario unfolded along Highway 1 in San Simeon, and luckily the bicyclists who saw it happening decided to stop and help. After distracting the coyote, they called The Marine Mammal Center’s 24-hour hotline to report the location of the northern elephant seal pup that was possibly injured and most certainly far from home.

As the coyote watched from the bushes nearby, Stranding Intern Craig Brown and several Center volunteers arrived on the scene to assess the pup’s health. They determined that the pup, which they named Coyote, had probably come from the Piedras Blancas rookery, an elephant seal breeding area nearby. The wily "Coyote" had managed to wander up the beach, through a barbed wire fence and across the highway before being spotted – first by the real coyote and then by the bicyclists.

After determining that Coyote needed to be rescued, Craig and his volunteer team brought her to The Marine Mammal Center’s San Luis Obispo County triage facility, where they cleaned the superficial wounds on her back and gave her fluids. She began receiving tube-feedings as well to ensure she received the nutrition she needs as a growing pup.

Coyote was then transferred to our hospital in Sausalito, California, where she joined Fraggle, who was separated from his mom at less than a month old, as the second elephant seal pup on-site in 2014.

When northern elephant seals are born, they have a dark, velvety fur covering called a "lanugo coat," also known as a “black coat.” They maintain this coat for about a month as they are nursing with their mothers. After weaning, they begin to shed this black coat to reveal a sleek, silver-gray coat. Within a year, the coat will turn silvery brown.

The top of Fraggle's back shows the molting of his black coat.
© Sarah van Schagen - The Marine Mammal Center

While Fraggle still has his black coat, Coyote had already shed most of hers when we found her, which means she was at least a month old. She was also starting to get her teeth, so we knew she would be ready to start eating fish soon. After a few days of tube-feeding her mashed-up fish, our trained volunteers started giving Coyote a daily session of “fish school” to get her interested in eating whole fish.

During fish school, volunteers drag fish on a string through the pool or offer them by hand until the pups learn that fish is for eating. After just a few sessions of fish school, Coyote has already starting eating whole fish. Later, she’ll have to learn how to forage on her own and compete for fish with other animals.

Our veterinary staff say that both Coyote and Fraggle are doing well, but both pups will need to stay on-site until they gain a healthy amount of weight and can prove they will be able to survive on their own in the wild.

As pupping season continues, it’s important to remember that the best thing you can do for these animals is exactly what the bicyclists did – leave seals be and call the experts at 415-289-SEAL (7325).



Find out more about our Leave Seals Be campaign.

Learn about Northern elephant seals!

Read about the Marine Mammal Protection Act

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