(CNN)When a woman told a wildlife official she thought she'd seen a wolverine on the beach of Washington state's Long Beach Peninsula they didn't believe her.
When a woman said she saw a wolverine on a Washington state beach, a wildlife official didn't believe her
The elusive creatures live in remote mountainous areas and any sightings -- let alone on a beach -- are rare, according to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).
Then she showed them a picture. In the May 23 snap, a furry animal with distinctive markings appears to be eating the carcass of a marine animal that washed ashore.
Jeff Lewis, a mesocarnivore conservation biologist with the WDFW, told CNN about the encounter and that he confirmed the animal was indeed a wolverine. There are only around 20 of the mammals in the entire state, according to WDFW. They are usually roaming in the remote mountainous areas of the North Cascades not on the sandy beach.
"This is way outside the beaten path for the wolverines," Lewis said. "It's not near the habitats they are usually at."
The mysterious wolverine is the largest terrestrial member of the weasel family and it can resemble a small bear with a bushy tail. The animal is stocky with short, rounded ears, small eyes, and large feet that are useful for traveling through snow, according to WDFW.
Scientists believe there are only 300 of the species left in the contiguous US, according to the Center for Biological Diversity, a non-profit animal conservation organization. Due to trapping and habitat loss the wolverine population has been dramatically shrinking, according to the center.
"It's special and noteworthy," Lewis said about the sighting. "Before we had to take people for their word. It's easier to document this now since everyone has a phone and a camera."
A wolverine was also seen on May 20, walking down a road in Naselle, a town east of Long Beach Peninsula, Lewis said. An observer captured two pictures of it and submitted them to Lewis for confirmation.