Seal Safari

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.

Colony looking across to Ano Nuevo Island

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.

Flipping sand

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.

Hanging out alone

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.

21 thoughts on “Seal Safari

    • MT — I’m not sure that elephant seals are rebels, but I think as long as you didn’t get between a mom and her pup — or look like you were going to try and scam one of the bulls’ ladies — you’d probably be okay… :)

  1. Great pics! I laughed at the sand flipping. And yes, let’s start a political party with the elephant seal on it’s seal (har) and drive the government far far away!
    Elephant seals make me laugh.

  2. Not all the seals in California or even on the West Coast could chase the politicians and their hangers-on out of Sacramento. They live too well up here, and judging from the last time I was in a high-end restaurant in Sacramento, they also eat too well. I wonder if we could force the legislators to perform or else not get their bucket of herring. But perhaps they’re not as bright as seals.

    Agh, sorry. I shouldn’t have watched that one snippet of the GOP debates last night.

  3. “nd 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.”

    HA HA HA! Fantastic.

    And … wonderful photos.

    What did it smell like? I’m thinking … abundant? ;) MJ

    • MJ — actually, it really didn’t smell badly at all. I didn’t notice any odors, but of course the concentration of them wasn’t particularly high where we were — I can’t speak for the clump where the pup was getting born.

  4. I miss the Blog Surfer, Steve. I missed this post altogether. Grr.

    You got some really nice photos of these guys. They’re so unusual. I know from experience that seals can move surprisingly fast (although I wonder just how fast) so the stay-far-back rule does not surprise me. Plus they have tons of bacteria in their mouths. But they have that quiet beauty. Funny how a sort of grotesque creature can be also pretty, kind of like manatees.

    Placenta for dinner. Mmmmm.

    • amelie — I’m a google reader person myself, so I’ve been (relatively) unaffected by the various redesigns of the wp interface.

      We could watch them move and it was really interesting to see how they could definitely get where they wanted to go pretty quickly. The docents also said the 2-ton males won’t stop for you (or anything else) and can be surprisingly quick.

      They are sort of like manatees, aren’t they? I also think of the pelican in that light too — they look so ungainly and disproportionate walking, but so gorgeous in flight.

  5. Boyfriend and I have always wanted to visit these big guys. They remind me of the harbor seals we see around Monterey, fat in the sand, livin’ the life.

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