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A large section of the flowerpot rock known as “the Elephant” at Hopewell Rocks provincial park, before and after it collapsed.

Kevin Snair/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The title of a widely-shared Facebook post describing the disintegration of one of the Maritimes' best-known natural tourism attractions says it all: Has Anyone Seen My Elephant?

It appeared this week on the page for Hopewell Rocks provincial park in New Brunswick, where one of the most popular of the Flowerpot formations has collapsed.

"To see it gone, or changed, it's sad," Kevin Snair, supervisor of interpretive services, said Tuesday as he walked the beach where Elephant Rock delighted thousands of local residents and tourists each year.

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"But it's also really kind of exciting. As an interpreter, we talk about how the park was formed and we're trying to explain to guests that erosion isn't something that happened thousands of years ago. It's still happening today."

Snair first noticed early Monday that Elephant Rock — an image captured in countless selfies, on postcards and even the New Brunswick Medicare card — looked more like a massive pile of rubble.

"Sure enough, there was an amazing amount of rock that had let go in the hours just prior to that."

Snair said reaction to his photos of the dramatic transformation shows the emotional connection so many people feel to the collection of wave-carved shapes known as Flowerpot Rocks.

"To see Mother Nature at her strongest, just rebuilding the park, it's beautiful as well as it's sad."

Snair said sea stacks and cliff faces can always shift, but warm days and cold nights make conditions especially volatile at this time of year.

"Water trickles into the cracks that are inherently in the rocks and then at night, it's cold enough that it freezes again," he said.

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A rapid succession of freeze-thaw cycles can split those weak spots.

"It puts a lot of stress on those cracks and, eventually, something lets go."

Almost 230,000 people visited the park in season last year, beginning in May. It's one of many sites across Canada — from Siwash Rock in Vancouver's Stanley Park to Alberta's fossil-rich Badlands to the famed Balancing Rock in Digby, N.S. — where evolutionary tales unfold.

The Bay of Fundy's famed tidal action and a geological history dating back 250 million years mean ever-changing scenery along those New Brunswick and Nova Scotia coastlines, said Tim Fedak, curator at the Fundy Geological Museum in Parrsboro, N.S.

There was a similar public outpouring last October when one of the region's most cherished landmarks, the Long Island arch, fell in. Ancient fault lines make some parts of the Bay of Fundy cliffs more prone to rock falls, Fedak said in an interview.

"It's always important to remind people that it's an active coastline. There's active erosion. There are some spots that are more dangerous than others.

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"When people see a pile of rocks at the base of a cliff it's always important to realize that they came from above, and quite recently, because the bay will erode (them) away quite quickly."

For some online wags, the demise of Elephant Rock was fodder for a bit of fun.

New Brunswick's satirical web magazine, "The Manatee" said interlopers from Nova Scotia clearly sabotaged their neighbour's prized tourism site, likely with a blast of dynamite.

"With that rock's appearance drastically altered, Tourism New Brunswick now has little choice but to toss all 28 million reproductions of that one photo — you know the one — into the Bay of Fundy."

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