Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Newborn confusion

Mothers and pups sometimes get confused on the beach. It happened Monday, when three mothers contended over four pups. None of the visitors witnessed the births, so we observers were as confused as the seals.

My guess was that the missing mother was about ten feet away. A female was sleeping just beyond the group. The large reddish spot on the sand suggested that a birth had recently happened there, and she was the likely mother.

Two of the mothers barked and threatened each other. The third quietly tended to two pups. The bright sunshine causes sharp shadows that make this photo difficult to decipher. Here one of the mothers barks at a pup, while her rival tosses sand on her back.

All four of the pups were very new, and I didn't see any of them nursing. The two pups affiliating with the quiet mother were sociable toward each other, nosing each other companionably.

The beach isn't terribly crowded yet, but this group managed to get their signals crossed. I don't know whether anyone has every documented switched pups. It seems like something that could happen, without ill effects. So long as a pup gets care and adequate milk, it wouldn't be important that it be from its biological mother. Last year lots of mothers nursed other pups after theirs died in winter storms.

We'll see how the season progresses. Few females have chosen to settle on the north end of the rookery, where the beach has eroded.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

First pup born!

The first pup of the season was born Friday, December 10. That's early. Usually the first birth is closer to Christmas. He or she arrived fine and healthy, though. This one was born this morning, December 18. The mother appears confident and calm. She's within a few feet of the beachmaster. Subadult males and juveniles are still on the beach, but they aren't bothering her.
The pup is still attached to the afterbirth by its umbilical cord. A gull comes over.

The gull takes a taste --
then the whole flock comes over to clean it up.

This morning's visitors were excited and thrilled at the new baby, despite today's rain. Visitors are always at the bluff, eager to see what's going on.

Weather is harsh, rainy and windy. The pups don't have much body fat, blubber, when they are born. They gain weight fast, but they appear vulnerable to cold and wet at the start.

I'm in between holiday travel, but will post as news trickles in. One of the events I attended was the National Geographic Marine Recreation Community Workshop in Monterey, http://ocean.nationalgeographic.com/ocean/. They invited people who are involved in ocean-related work in the community to partner with them in educating the public about the oceans. Speakers included Dan Costas, who leads marine animal research and is a co-founder of TOPP, http://www.topp.org/; Jim Covel, senior manager of Guest Experience Training and and Interpretation at Monterey Bay Aquarium; Gary Grigggs, a researcher on coastal issues; Bridget Hoover, director of the Water Quality Protection Program; Lisa Lurie, Agriculture Water Quality coordinator for the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary; Barton Seaver, chef and ocean advocate; and Tierney Thys, an expert on the ocean sunfish and all-around ocean expert.

The site has lots of the amazing photos that National Geographic is known for. This Frilled Shark lives as far as 5,000 feet deep. It's one of the critters that elephant seals know about but we don't. This one, which is almost five and a half feet long, was captured off Japan in 2007 and lived in captivity only a short time.

The opportunity to get all these wonderful people in one room at the same time was the best Christmas present I could have had. Every one of them was inspired and inspiring. I learned from all of them. I felt a whoosh of power in that room. Lifeguards, rangers, dive shop operators, whale-watching boat captains, Monterey Bay advocates of all kinds, and me, represented the elephant seals -- what a perfect way to reach more people who want to learn about the oceans and do better.

One of the phrases that stuck with me was, "You are now a citizen of Planet Ocean." I'm going to start telling bluff visitors that.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Monterey Marine Protected Area Updates

Danielle Brown, administrative assistant at the Monterey Bay Sanctuary Foundation sent out this news on marine protected areas.

First, two MPAs already in effect in the north central and central coast regions have undergone status changes. These changes demonstrate the evolving nature of this growing network of MPAs along California’s coastline. In the north central coast region, part of the Stewarts Point State Marine Reserve (SMR) has been set aside as the Stewarts Point State Marine Conservation Area (SMCA). The change to this MPA was made in response to concerns raised by abalone divers and other user groups. This decision demonstrates the adaptive management strategy that governs the California network of MPAs whereby future management plans are informed by real-time issues. The Stewarts Point SMCA now allows the take of specific marine species from shore. For more information please view the complete guide to MPAs of the north central coast, http://californiampas.org/pubs/nccmpas_guide.pdf.

In the central coast region, the State Parks Commission made the decision to redesignate the Cambria SMCA as a State Marine Park (SMP). This change provides additional protection on top of the initial California Department of Fish and Game’s designation, now all commercial extractive activities are prohibited. Here is an updated map of the central coast MPAs with this SMP change incorporated, . Second, earlier this month, the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Blue Ribbon Task Force (BRTF) unanimously voted to forward a single, community-based MPA proposal for the north coast to the California Fish and Game Commission (FGC) for approval. The MPA proposal, developed by the 33-member north coast regional stakeholder group (NCRSG), will be presented in Sacramento to the FGC in February 2011. The north coast community should be congratulated for their collaboration and on reaching consensus on the proposal. To read more about this phase of the MLPA, please go here. http://californiampas.org/pubs/CA_CC_MPA_Poster_4MuseumExhibit_newLogo.jpg.

For more information, contact Danielle at 299 Foam Street, Suite D, Monterey, CA 93940 danielle@mbnmsf.org

Friday, December 10, 2010

California Conservation Corps

Here's the California Conservation Corps team, http://www.ccc.ca.gov/Pages/default.aspx, that built the new trail overlooking the north beach at the Piedras Blancas Viewpoint. They did a great job. Mike Anderson, in the light tan shirt at left, is the project manager. The trail required some special engineering to cope with water running off Highway 1 and from the ranch on the east side of the highway. All these young people learned a lot from working on this project.
It was funded by the California Coastal Trail grant program of the California Coastal Conservancy and money from the National Park Service Land and Water Conservation Fund. Read more: http://www.sanluisobispo.com/2010/12/06/1396919/a-new-view-of-the-elephant-seals.html#ixzz17k8D1ADI.

Saturday, December 4, 2010


This young seal was playing with a piece of seaweed on the beach today. Play is rare among elephant seals. Life is serious business to them. Their behavior is generally pretty focused on the practical activities that they need to survive. But this one took some time for light-hearted play.