SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - A colony of elephant seals took over a beach in Northern California during the government shutdown when there was no staff to discourage the animals from congregating in the popular tourist area, an official said.
About 50 adult seals that have birthed 40 pups took over a beach in Point Reyes National Seashore, knocking down a fence and moving into the parking lot.
The park north of San Francisco is home to a colony of about 1,500 elephant seals that tend to frequent another beach with 100-foot-tall cliffs that keep the animals protected and mostly hidden from the public, said park spokesman John Dell'Osso.
Dell'Osso said it's likely the recent storms and high tides inundated the animal's normal habitat with water and so they sought a wider swath of dry land around the corner.
"Sometimes you go out with tarps and you shake the tarps and it annoys them and they move the other direction," he said.
But since nobody was at work to address the seal migration, the animals took over. One seal even adventured under a picnic table near a cafe. Larger seals knocked down a fence near the parking lot.
The elephant seals were lounging in the sand after the park reopened Sunday, leading staff to temporarily close the road to the beach.
Officials have no plans to move the animals while some of the elephant seals nurse their pups.
Staff is considering offering guided tours of the elephant colony, Dell'Osso said.
"We are going to have a lot of park rangers and docents," he said. "So we will be able to bring people to the edge of the beach to witness this incredible sight. But we can't let people on the beach."
KTVU's Rob Roth contributed to this report.