This enormous sea creature’s rare good deed at a California beach puzzles experts

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A bull elephant seal on a California beach shocked researchers in 2022 with an uncharacteristic good deed, a recent study reported.

The seal pushed a pup being swept out to sea back to shore at Point Reyes National Seashore, a Marine Mammal Science study published Jan. 25 said.

“No one has ever heard of this before,” Sarah Codde, a marine ecologist at Point Reyes who co-authored the paper, told SF Gate.

“Normal elephant seal male behavior is they basically don’t even acknowledge the pups’ existence,” Codde said. “This male was fasting. They really try to conserve their energy to fight with other males or mate with females. For this male to leave the beach and go into the water to interact with a pup, it’s a really big deal.”

Co-authors Matt Lau and Sarah Allen spotted a 2-week-old elephant seal pup being carried away from Drakes Beach by the waves, the study said.

“We noted that the pup was unable to swim as it struggled to keep its head above water, calling,” the study said. A female elephant seal splashed after the pup on the beach and called to it, but could not reach the pup.

The bull elephant seal charged into the ocean after the pup and pushed it to shore with its head, the study said. It also used its body to block the pup from being pulled back out to sea.

“Slowly but steadily, the male gently pushed the pup to shore until it could touch bottom,” the study said.

The entire incident lasted about 20 minutes.

Codde said the behavior was unusual not only because the bull elephant seal took an active interest in the pup but because he left his harem of female elephant seals unprotected, SF Gate reported.

“Elephant seals are complicated,” Allen told The New York Times. “We only see a small fraction of their life.”

Daniel Costa, an ecologist at the University of California, Santa Cruz, told the publication that elephant seals may have more brainpower than he previously believed.

“Maybe there’s more going on up there than I thought,” Costa said, according to The New York Times.

Male elephant seals can reach over 13 feet in length and can weigh up to 4,400 pounds, or 2.2 tons, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. They typically live about 13 years. Females can reach up to 10 feet and 1,300 pounds and typically live about 19 years.

Point Reyes National Seashore is about 40 miles northwest of San Francisco.

Large colonies of elephant seals are also typically found at Piedras Blancas near San Simeon, at Año Nuevo State Reserve and at the Channel Islands off Southern California.

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