A southern elephant seal decided to take a break from a long migration and sun itself on beaches in Oaxaca this week.
The seal, a rare sight in Mexico since it normally lives in sub-Antarctic and Antarctic waters, landed first on a beach in Barra de la Cruz on Tuesday and then showed up in Huatulco, according to regional Civil Protection and Huatulco National Park officials.
Photos shared by the park show the marine mammal happily beached on the sand. Other photos circulated on Facebook taken by drone photographers showed the seal relaxing in Barra de la Cruz, where residents attempted to hydrate the seal after observing that its skin was flaking.
Hector Miranda, a supervisor with Mexico’s federal environmental protection agency Profepa, said the seal was in good health and the flaking was due to a normal process of the seal molting its skin.
When molting occurs, elephant seals must rest on land where they shed their outer layer of hair and skin.
“This breed only [beaches itself] to rest,” National Park officials said. “It doesn’t need human help nor hydration support. It’s en route to its final destination — the Gulf of California.”
Park officials asked well-meaning onlookers to “simply let it rest; afterward, it will continue on its way.”
This was not this particular seal’s debut appearance in Mexico: on January 26, say federal environmental officials, it landed on a Chiapas beach in Palmarcito, where the La Encrucijada biosphere reserve is located. They have been tracking it since then.
Another southern elephant seal was spotted on a beach in Puerto Arista, Chiapas, on December 15.
The elephant seal is one of the largest breeds of seal in existence. Females can reach up to 900 kilograms. To reach Mexico’s coast, this particular animal likely faced a journey as long as 7,000 kilometers.