During our getaway the other weekend to the coast near Año Nuevo State Reserve, we saw that there is a well-established elephant seal rookery at Año Nuevo Island and on the nearby beach. And better yet, we found that you can sign up for a guided nature tour and seal observation hike. That sounded like a great idea to us, so we signed on for a late afternoon tour.
Our group was maybe 10 people and we were guided by our docent, Ed. (Like me, Ed is a New Jersey ex-pat, so we got along well.) The walk to the seal colony was maybe a mile or so, with some mild dune-climbing. Along the way, Ed told us about some of local history (like Año Nuevo Island used to be a point when it was discovered 400 years ago and is now and island). Along the way, we saw cool hawks and some bobcat tracks.
I’m not so sure that “wild” is the right adjective for elephant seals. I suppose as the opposite of “domesticated” it’s appropriate, but certainly not as part of “… and crazy”.
Federal law allows approach within 25 feet, though I don’t think the seals would have minded much if we got closer. Apparently, they’ve never developed a sense of wariness around humans, which is one of the reasons the species almost became extinct about 100 years ago.
The island used to have a foghorn and navigation light station, but when the seals moved in, the government moved out (perhaps the seals will give us a hand and move on to Sacramento and Washington…) and the colony breeds there and on the coastal beach.
It was great to see such giant creatures (up to 4000 lbs!) up close and doing what they do naturally. Generally, there’s not much activity – and I have to say that seeing these massive mammals just laying around in the sun made be feel better about my general inactivity and the few pounds I might have put on over the holidays.
It wasn’t quite the time of year for the bulls to square off, so by far the biggest activity we saw was the activity around a pup birth (elephant seal females are almost constantly pregnant). We couldn’t really see the birth itself in the distance, but we could see a swarm of seagulls go diving in so that they could tear up and eat the nutrient-rich placenta. Yum.
All in all, it was a great way to spend a couple of hours learning about the region and our most excellent pinniped cousins that live there.