Elephant seals at Año Nuevo State Park

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Saturday, March 07, 2009
By Yokota Fritz


My wife, daughter and I visited Año Nuevo State Park today and took the elephant seal tour. Isn't this little pup a cute one?

Snotty nosed pup


Northern elephant seals were hunted to near extinction in the late 19th Century for their blubber that was rendered into (tada!) oil for household and industrial use. They were thought to be extinct when a small holdout colony was found on remote Guadalupe Island in Mexico in 1906. All northern elephant seals today are descended from about a dozen individual seals from Guadalupe Island.

Point Año Nuevo is a major birthing and breeding ground for northern elephant seals, and currently thousands of pups are born each year at Año Nuevo. Females begin arriving in November to give birth to 80 pound pups. After a month of nursing, the pups have quadrupled their weight.

A month after the babies are born, the females go into estrus and the breeding season begins, during which males fight for dominance and control of the harem. Only about 1 in 10 males will ever mate during their lifetime.

The photo of the pup above is one of over 100 I shot today during the guided tour. Most of the females are gone, but several bulls remain along with a beach full of "weaners" -- weaned pups. The elephant seal viewing season at Año Nuevo State Park is drawing to a close as the seals all return to their north Pacific feeding grounds, but you can still see several seals and get fairly up close to them on the tour during the month of March.

California Gray Whales are also migrating past Monterey Bay this time of year so it's a good time to see those, too. We could see the spouts and occasional flukes from entire pods of whales as they swam off the coast this morning at Año Nuevo. We even saw one whale jump completely out of the water. Bring good binoculars for whale viewing from the coast.

Finally, I think I saw Jobst Brandt riding this morning on Highway 1. He was going the opposite direction that I was. I've run into him before in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

I don't have recent photos of Jobst, but you can view my Año Nuevo visit photos here if you'd like. Enjoy!


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