Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The state is building a boardwalk for the north bluff of the viewpoint! It will replace the dirt trail and single strand of rope that now greet visitors. The trail will be closed for 22 weeks, starting May 12.

Doug Barker, District Services Manager for Hearst Castle / California State Parks, reports that the plan is to construct an ADA-Accessible segment of the California Coastal Trail to connect the parking lots at Vista Points 3 and 4. There will be 330 feet of boardwalk and 945 feet of decomposed granite trail with "bulb out" viewing areas separated from the bluffs by handrails.

The trail will remedy drainage and erosion problems along the existing trail alignment. When the rangers came out to eyeball the site last week, they told me they will also remove invasive thistles. I hope they take out the poison oak, too. The trail will be replanted with California native plants.
Approximately 50 feet of the north end of the parking lot at Vista Point 3 will be cordoned off with orange temporary construction fencing for equipment staging and personnel, at the southern end ofthe project area. For safety reasons, this staging area will be closed to the public for the duration.
A more secure trail should prevent seals from climbing onto it, as this weaner did in February. It's charming, but risky. There's a gate on the trail now, to keep seals from getting into the parking lot. The unadorned trail has a nice, rustic feel to it, but it's not adequate for the thousands of visitors who now come to the viewpoint. There will still be plenty of undeveloped California coast for us to enjoy.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Marine art

Camp Ocean Pines here in Cambria hosts a lot of interesting events, This past weekend was the 8th Annual California Sculptors Symposium. The group shown at left is a permanent installation at the camp. There's a small sea turtle directly in the center, swimming near the large one. Above the small turtle is a sea otter. On the right is a column of kelp.

Not all the art reflects the ocean and coastal themes, but, given the setting, many of the sculptures do have a marine theme.

These dolphins, carved of Borrego Alabaster by Kim Sentinella, are titled California Surfing.

New England Baby Octopus is also carved of Alabaster, by Steve Mathews, priced at $2,500.

Nicholas Corneos' Sea Eye took first place. It's for sale for $6,000.

This limestone column comes from Kansas, where the stone was carved up and used as fenceposts, sculptor Fred Whitman explained to us. He has several, and is contracting for another load of limestone columns. This one has a mermaid with wild hair, Oceana #1, $4,000.

I liked Betty Clemons' alabaster fish mounted on a redwood burl, $395, and her Sunrise Horse, of Utah Special Alabaster.

I couldn't help but notice that none of the sculptors was inspired to use the elephant seal as a subject. Perhaps next year the symposium will feature majestic bulls, mother-pup pairs, chunky weaners, to honor our local colony.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


Lots of animals on the beach, mature females and juveniles of both sexes. May is actually the high point for total number of seals on the beach, more even than the breeding season. This picture shows the south end of the beach.

Vistors often ask where the elephant seals are, since the juveniles and females don't have the characteristic trunk-like nose (technically, proboscis) that gives elephant seals their name. Males develop that nose, starting around five years old, so its size is a rough indicator of age during those adolescent years, from five to eight. Females never develop the nose.
The state, despite its financial woes, had designated money to build a boardwalk at the north end of the viewpoint. State employees were out on the bluff on Monday, walking the area and getting ready to start construction. Now, it's a very rough trail at that end.

I've developed a real hatred of thistles, and was horrified to find some growing out there. It's the nastiest weed I can think of, the Pricker Weed from Hell. The spines are so strong and sharp that they penetrate even leather gloves. I've made it my mission to remove it from a local park, so I couldn't stop myself from removing it at the viewpoint.
The main goal is to prevent it from blooming and sending its millions of seeds to colonize other areas. The maintenance supervisor told me they'd remove it when they build the boardwalk, so just topping the flowers off the plants will be good enough for now. I pull as many of the plants as I can.
It's way worse than poison oak. We have some of that along the trail, but somehow I feel like poison oak stays to itself. Thistles want to conquer the world with their evil spiny leaves.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

New NOAA mapping tool

NOAA launched an amazing mapping tool for Marine Protected Areas on March 30. Once I got started with it, I found that it really does make it easy to identify and find basic information about the 1,637 U.S. Marine Protected Areas,

National Marine Protected Areas Center

-- "NOAA Launches Interactive Marine Protected Areas Mapping Tool":

The site provides a scrollable list of MPAs by name, so you can click and see the map that way. You can also click on the location and the designated MPAs appear. The accompanying data sheet includes location, boundaries, size, year established, types of fishing restrictions, and more. It’s easy to zoom in and out. The main Web site has a full list of all protected areas, and extensive related information.

The mapping tool is part of a broader update of the MPA Center’s Web site, a wonderful resource for information about U.S. MPAs. The Ocean Uses Atlas provides comprehensive information for the entire California coast. Data in the Atlas comes from resource managers, stakeholders and scientists, who met in a series of workshops to map patterns of human uses of the ocean in California. In this listing, Wildlife Viewing, such as watching the elephant seals at Piedras Blancas, is classified as Non-Consumptive under Beach Use.

Information such as this is crucial to protecting the oceans. Thanks, NOAA, for responding to the public interest with these projects.

I also loved that the contact person for the California Ocean Use Atlas is Senior Scientist Dr. Charles M. Wahle. How suitable!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Weaners are nearly all gone from the beach, replaced by juveniles of both sexes and adult females. They return in the spring to molt and take four to six weeks of rest. Thousands have already returned to Piedras Blancas. More seals are actually on the beach in May than during the mating season. The yellow flowers are mustard, one of many invasive plants on the Central Coast, but they do add nice color.

This female shows scars from a past shark attack. The peeling skin of her companions is the normal molt elephant seals experience annually.

Follicles of the old skin dissolve, uncovering the new skin underneath. Although it looks like something that would be itchy, the seals don’t take much notice of it.

Last week, one of the weaners was observed wearing a dog collar. Whatever the motive for dressing an elephant seal as a pet may have been, the results are tragic. A constricting collar will become progressively tighter as the animal grows, slowly killing it.

The single most important function of the elephant seal viewpoint is public education. I hope that over time, such careless harm will eventually become unthinkable.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Elephant Seal books

There aren't many, but Burney Le Boeuf and Richard Laws' Elephant Seals: Population Ecology, Behavior and Physiology is a classic collection of scientific papers. There's not nearly as much literature on elephant seals as on other marine mammals, so this book is an important one.
I was disappointed to find that it is out of print and all but unavailable. Amazon can connect to a couple of used book dealers who are selling it for over $300.
I have access to copies owned by Friends of the Elephant Seal, but I'd like to acquire my own copy.
The full text is posted online at I still want my own real book.