We visited Ano Nuevo State Reserve, about 30 miles north of Santa Cruz, last week. The site is very different from Piedras Blancas. Organized groups hike out about a mile, then are joined by a docent leader to hike another mile or so across the dunes to see the seals. The tour is different every day, because the seals move around. As this photo shows, visitors walk fairly near the seals. The official limit is to be 25 feet away.
The Ano Nuevo rookery is about the same size as Piedras Blancas, but is longer established. Seals have been coming there since the 1960s. They only started coming to Piedras Blancas in 1990. The first birth was observed at Piedras Blancas in 1992.
It may have been the worst possible weather, in a location that is often windy and cold. The official report cited sustained winds of 40 mph, gusts up to 58 mph. That was tough enough, hard to stand up at times. Then the rain started. The wind made it hit our faces like hail, and the sand whipped up scoured us. Both of us had red, wind- and sand-blown skin for days after. The rain soaked us completely, as wet as if we’d been hosed down.
The seals were apparently unaffected. We watched the weaners below play in the water, chasing each other from puddle to puddle.
The landscape is far different from the beach, set against the sheer bluff, at Piedras Blancas. There are tall dunes and wide sandy pastures, like this. Many pups were drowned and washed off the beach anyway, if they were in vulnerable locations.
The following day the 8.8 earthquake struck Chile, setting off tsunami watches for the entire west coast. As events unfolded, the actual effect along the Central Coast was minimal, about three feet of surge. That's fortunate -- it wouldn't take much to inundate this landscape.
The weaners are mature enough to manage being in the water now. I saw some playing in the surf last week, some in the outflow of a culvert to the beach today. They aren't able to swim and dive well enough to take up their aquatic life yet, but they are unlikely to get wached out to sea.