Elephant seals are not pretty creatures. In fact, they're ugly--except for their big brown eyes.
Like any other animal, including man, they are likely to be even less attractive when they're sick.
But it was a sick young elephant seal that caused a number of Avalon residents--including the mayor and the City Council--to ask a group of Laguna Beach volunteers to teach them how to care for ailing sea mammals that wash up on the shores of Santa Catalina Island.
"They want us to go to the island on March 17 and make a presentation to the council and try to get them started on a program like ours," said Karin Wyman, curator of the nonprofit Friends of the Sea Lion Marine Mammal Center in Laguna Canyon.
When the elephant seal washed up on the beach at Avalon harbor Feb. 16, it just lay there until a nearby resident, Carmen Langford, couldn't stand its suffering. She had heard about Friends of the Sea Lion and telephoned for help.
Wyman and two of her volunteers, Kris Alvarez and Darren Ramsey, carrying medications and a cage, caught a ferry the next day.
When they arrived at Avalon, Wyman said, they were surprised when "residents seemed to resent us being there."
"Their attitude seemed to be, 'let it die, let nature take its course,' " she said.
But she and her helpers went ahead and gave the animal emergency medication and some force-feeding, "and the people began to get interested in what we were doing," Wyman said.
They even helped get the 275-pound, 15-month-old male elephant seal into the cage to be brought to Laguna Beach, where it was found to be suffering from pneumonia, hookworms, roundworms, malnutrition and dehydration.
Wyman went the first 48 hours without sleep tending the creature, which she named Avalon (Lonnie for short), and by Thursday it was eating heartily and showing promise of living to adulthood, when it'll weigh more than two tons and sport an elephant-like snout. Ugly.
But the really good news, Wyman said, was that Avalon officials have asked her and her volunteers to appear at the March 17 City Council meeting to lay out plans for starting a sea mammal rescue program similar to Laguna Beach's.
"They've already told us they can provide housing for our volunteers until they get their own volunteers, and they are building a new animal shelter, so we can use their old one," she said.