PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Sunday’s mountain lion sighting at Cannon Beach is the first-known case of a cougar climbing Haystack Rock, officials with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said Monday.

The cougar, which shut down a stretch of Cannon Beach on Sunday, is thought to have scaled the massive sea stack to hunt for birds during low tide on the night of July 15. On Monday morning, wildlife officials confirmed that the predatory cat returned to shore sometime overnight. ODFW Biologist Paul Atwood said that this is the first time a mountain lion has used this hunting strategy even though the 235-foot island is teeming with seabirds and sea life in the summer.

The cougar spotted on Haystack Rock. July 16, 2023 (Photo courtesy of Khula Makhalira)
Images of a cougar spotted on Haystack Rock on July 16, 2023. (Photo courtesy of Khula Makhalira)

“While the forested areas along the coast are prime habitat for cougars, it is unusual that a cougar made its way on to Haystack Rock,” Atwood said. “Their primary food source is deer, but they will also consume elk, other mammals and birds.”

Haystack Rock is a protected part of the Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. A diverse range of seabirds raise their young on Haystack Rock between March and September each year, including tufted puffins, common murres, pigeon guillemot and black oystercatchers, the refuge’s visitor services manager Dawn Harris said. More than 350,000 people visit the rock each year to see the tidepools surrounding its base during low tide. However, areas of Haystack Rock above the high tide line are always closed to the public.

“It’s one of the best places on the entire West Coast to see tufted puffins in the wild and this opportunity attracts tens of thousands of visitors,” Harris said.

The scene of the cougar-related beach closure on July 16. (Cannon Beach Police Department)

Biologists say that mountain lion populations have grown throughout Oregon’s Coast Range in recent years as they spread out from more densely populated areas in search of new habitat. Larger populations of the cats’ primary prey, black-tailed deer, are also contributing to the growing population.

Several cougar sightings were also reported in the past week at Nehalem Bay State Park, 16 miles south of Cannon Beach. The sightings, which are connected to a second cougar roaming popular visitor areas of Oregon’s North Coast, prompted the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department to close the park’s Loop Trail on July 13.

“It is not the same cougar that was seen at Haystack Rock,” wildlife officials said Monday. “OPRD is working with ODFW on next steps for safety. The park will share updates when they are available and reopen the trail when it is safe to do so.”

Local wildlife officials say that cougars are usually elusive and wary of humans. The public is asked to give cougars enough space to flee if an encounter occurs.

FILE – Mountain lion in fresh snow. (Oregon Zoo/photo by Michael Durham)

With the rising number of sightings, the ODFW and USFWS have provided the following list of cougar safety tips:

  • Stay calm and do not run away. Running can trigger a chase response in cougars, which could lead to an attack.
  • Raise your voice and speak firmly.
  • Maintain direct eye contact.
  • Pick up children but do so without bending down or turning your back on the cougar.
  • Back away slowly.
  • If the cougar displays aggressive behavior or does not leave, raise your arms to make yourself look larger and clap your hands.
  • In the unlikely event of an attack, fight back with rocks, sticks, bear or pepper spray, tools or any items available.