northern elephant seals along the california coast

I was looking through old Wintersong posts today looking for a post I thought I’d written about elephant seals along the California coast. I cannot imagine why I didn’t, but apparently I forgot–and that was even before the chemo brain I blame everything on now!

In our quest to view northern elephant seals two years ago at this time of year, Hubby and I found ourselves at California’s Año Neuvo State Park, which is the site of the largest mainland breeding colony in the world for the northern elephant seal. I was there several years prior while visiting my daughter, then a graduate student at Stanford University in Palo Alto. It was during the winter breeding season and I remember being immensely impressed with the rituals and lengths to which the male elephant seals go in order to attract a willing female. Seeing as how much larger than the females they were I can understand why the females did not seem altogether interested. While the females grow to 9-12 feet and weigh between 900-1800 pounds, males grow to 14-16 feet long and weigh in at 3000-5000 pounds or more. I remember watching and being very thankful I had not come into this world as a female elephant seal!

By early March most of the adult seals are gone, leaving the weaned pups behind until around the end of April when they all return to Año Nuevo’s beaches to molt and grow new skins.  So, while it might not be as exciting watching elephant seals shed their skins rather than witnessing their mating rituals, I felt certain Hubby would enjoy seeing them interact.

If you’d like to go see for yourself sometime if or when you’re in California, be advised that in order to reach the rookery site, you should be in fairly good shape for hiking, as you’ll have to walk a long distance over fairly flat ground that varies from this nice rock path near the beginning . . .

and slug through sand that makes you remember those quicksand scenes you saw when you were a kid in jungle and desert movies. At that point you just focus and think how strong your ankles are getting and put one foot ahead of the other . . . !

Finally, if you can stop lollygagging–as I always do taking pictures of all the flowers and stuff yards behind Hubby–you’ll see glimpses of the shoreline. And the seals’ napping area. Interacting, they are definitely not!

While they’re in the ocean, seals spend most of their time alone. Naturally, when they come ashore they seem to need a little contact with others of their kind . . . and you’ll nearly always see young pups looking for a warm body to lie on and being rebuffed. Apparently molting and making new skin takes a lot out of you and you don’t need some kid to come along looking for cuddle time.  Actually I felt downright sorry for them, but couldn’t do anything because visitors of the human ilk are not allowed to get close enough to touch them, much less cuddle. But how would one accomplish such if such were possible?

Probably you’ll never need to know. But should you ever find yourself on a beach in south Georgia, (that’s the state that Russia still thinks it owns, not the one in the U.S. southeast) where apparently you are allowed to be up close and personal, here’s an instructive video you should watch. Even if you never plan to cuddle a seal, but love animals–especially baby versions–as much as I do, then you’ll want to watch this. I think it might make it to the top of your list of favorites as it has mine.

Happy a great weekend, everyone! 😀

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9 thoughts on “northern elephant seals along the california coast

  1. First, glad to see you’re writing again and second, we went to see these seals and it was incredible. So glad you wrote about them. And glad you are doing well – your high school entry yearbook inspired an entire conversation about classmates to Facebook to now with me and a high school chum.

    • So nice to see you back at work too Rachel! I was just thinking about your “tattoo photobook project” the other day and wondering where or how it’s going? My problem in writing is that I can’t focus very well on any one project. Do you know what happened to many of your classmates? Anyone you know to really have “made it” as we say?

    • Harbor seals are great, too. When or if I’m ever there you can be sure I’ll check them out. I believe there’s a great opportunity for whale watching there on your coast as well. Too many great places and things to see! Too many books to read, cookbooks to look through! So little time! 😥

    • Can’t say that I would either Grannymar! In fact I did look more closely (remember that remark about being thankful I wasn’t born a female seal?) and felt more comfortable when I saw this little guy appeared to be a mere baby. He appeared amazingly cat like to me, and I really loved how calm the young woman was.

  2. Charming, catlike and good it was a baby seal. The closest I’ve ever come to anything like that was with a large German Shepherd who put his head and front paws on my lap. The entire dog would have been much too much.

    • There are people who seem to attract animals more than others…cats usually like me, dogs too. Hubby used to say my cats didn’t feel “love”, they just knew who fed them. I argued they know who the goodist are; that’s why they choose me. And probably why that German shepherd chose you. 😆

  3. I’m glad you found this – what great photos. We get dolphins twice a year, here, but somehow never when I’m at the beach and hoping to see them.

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