Updated July 17: Mountain lion tracks leading away from Haystack Rock indicate that the mountain lion has left, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife reported in a Facebook post. Cannon Beach has reopened to visitors.
Visitors at Oregon’s Cannon Beach encountered a predator-related beach closure on the morning of July 16, but not for the kind of predator beaches usually close for. Instead of a toothy shark swimming through the surf, photographers glimpsed a mountain lion perched on Haystack Rock at roughly 6:40 a.m.
The sighting prompted local officials with the Oregon State Police, Oregon State Parks, and the City of Cannon Beach Police to close off a section of the iconic beach, which is part of the Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge. They also closed all access roads leading to the area. The beach was still closed as of 9:20 p.m. on July 16 and would remain closed overnight, as the mountain lion was still on the rock, Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuges wrote in a Facebook post.
The beach and road closures were designed to give the cougar an escape route off the rock and back to the coast. It remains unclear whether officials have any plans to try hazing or otherwise encouraging the cougar to climb off the rock.
The cougar looks wet in photos that were captured the morning before the closure, indicating that it might have swum at least part of the way to the rock. Standing at 235 feet tall and less than 1,000 feet from the shores of Cannon Beach, Haystack Rock is accessible by foot at low tide, and is often surrounded by interesting tidal pools and creatures that draw lots of attention from beachgoers. (Cannon Beach was also a shooting location for movies like The Goonies and Twilight, making it a busy tourist destination.) But low tide on July 16 was at 7:52 a.m., well after when the cougar was first spotted. This means it either walked to the rock during a prior low tide or it swam there during the night.
Contrary to popular belief, mountain lions are strong swimmers and will frequently dive into the water to chase prey. Since Haystack Rock provides a major nesting ground for tufted puffins, there’s a chance the cat was attracted by the birds. But now that the cat is on the island, it has yet to climb up to the nesting grounds to feed on any birds, OINWR reports in its Facebook post. Hatchlings are plentiful at the moment, as breeding season began in April.