05/03/2013 04:35 EDT | Updated 07/03/2013 05:12 EDT

Elephant seal moulting on West Vancouver beach

A one-year-old elephant seal is beached on West Vancouver's Ambleside beach, but city officials are warning curious onlookers to keep their distance from the potentially aggressive animal.

City staff erected a fence on Friday morning to keep people away from the large marine mammal, which appears to be going through what is called a catastrophic moult, when it sheds most of its fur.

During moulting — a process that takes an average of 25 days — the skin dries, cracks and sloughs off. Biologists say the seal will not eat during this process.

"It's a fairly stressful time for them," said Paul Cottrell, Marine Mammals Coordinator for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

"This sunshine will really help that process... hopefully speed it up,"

Elephant seals were once native to the West Coast, but were hunted to near extinction 100 years ago.

In recent years, the animals have been observed at Race Rocks near Victoria, and have re-established large breeding colonies along the Californian coast.

In November 2008, a 2,000-kilogram adult male elephant seal carcass washed up near Nanaimo on the east coast of Vancouver Island.

Then in May 2009, a one-year-old female was first spotted on Rainbow Beach in Esquimalt's inner harbor.

At the time she was shedding, but was also diseased and in danger of dying from what Vancouver Aquarium staff eventually diagnosed as northern elephant seal skin disease.