Saturday, February 14, 2009

Elephant Seals

I've been wanting to see the elephant seals during their semi-annual coming ashore for quite some time now. Elephant seals are true marine mammals, coming ashore only twice a year; to birth and mate in the winter, and to have a catastrophic molt in the summer. Remainder of the time, the males head north to the Aleutian Islands while the females head west to the pelagic zones of the northern Pacific Ocean. It is only during these two coming ashore periods that the seals are social. They live a solitary life the rest of the year. Researchers, observing data from tagged seals find that seals never just hang around when they are in the ocean. The seals are always making some directional progress, whether the seal is diving and hunting or in its semi-sleep state.

So much for their natural history. We drove down to just south of Pescadero, CA to visit the elephant seals at Ano Nuevo State Park. The only way to view the elephant seals is to be on a guided tour, led by docents. On the drive down, with blue skys punctuated by billowy clouds, we saw one area accented by a very dark storm cloud, obviously unleashing its fury on the land. That storm marked the location of the park. We arrived early and due to a cancellation we were moved to an earlier tour. We were bundled in raingear (goretex pants are so wonderful to own!) and headed off to the staging area. Shortly after our tour began, the winds shifted and blew the storm south, away from us. Watching the beasts was facinating. Mostly they just lounge around, watching. A few lucky Alpha Males get lucky, servicing their harems of 35-50 females, but mostly they are guarding away the beta males from their harem. Procreation among elephant seals isn't very impressive. No movement. No obvious male or female parts. Not even a glimpse of a bacula enhanced male organ. To top it off, it's all over with in about 30 seconds, without even a grunt or groan of satisfaction from either party. I had always thought animal sex was something more.

That said, enjoy the photos if you are so inclined. Link via the title of this blog.

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