Wednesday, December 31, 2014


This mother looks at her newborn. They hadn't quite gotten nursing organized by the time I left on Monday.

Monday, December 22, 2014

High tides

Two seals got into the viewing area last week. Thanks to Susan Garman for sending the photos from the Marine mammal Center Rescue Team. Here's the tv report.
This bull obligingly lies by an interpretive sign.

Difficult for visitors to get out on the boardwalk with this guard in place.

The high tides and lack of sand have made the north part of the beach inhospitable to mothers and pups. This morning, it was completely inundated by waves.
Waves lap against the base of the cliffs, leaving little safe space for pups. Pups can't swim until they are three months old, and are in danger of drowning.

It didn't bother this massive bull, but the female next to him better find a better place to have her pup.

That nose grows throughout his life. He's certainly a senior bull.

At least two new pups have joined the first one, born over a week ago. This sectionof the south beach has remained above the high tide line. The mothers are lying on the ocean side of their pups. I like to think they are protecting them.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

First pup!

This pup was born December 12. That's early. Usually, the first birth is around December 20. He's already a great attraction at Piedras Blancas.
Some of the young males seals approached her, eager to breed, even though she's a month from being receptive to them. The senior bull nearby, apparently sleeping, nevertheless, kept an eye on the situation. She chased them off but he raised an eyelid and looked over, and they settled down.

Soon two other pregnant females joined her in the maternity ward.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Rank hath its privileges

This big male seems perfectly content to use the youngsters as a reclining couch.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Changing of the guard

My monthly column for The Cambrian:

Plenty of juvenile seals are still on the beach this week, but the adult male bulls will start arriving any day now. The youngsters, refreshed by a month or more on the beach, will head back into the ocean and leave the beach to the bigger seals.
Two six-year-old seals square off.
Young males, 6 years old and younger, tussle with one another in the water and rest on the beach. They join females, 1 to 3 years old — not yet old enough to breed — on the sand. You can tell how old by how well developed that elephant-like nose is. Five-year-olds are just getting a bend. That bend grows into a noticeable trunk in the following year. It grows throughout the seal’s life, so senior seals have very impressive ones, indeed. Technically, it’s called a proboscis.

November is the calm before the ruckus of the birthing and breeding season. Bigger, older, more experienced bulls soon stake their claims on the beach. Only the most dominant males get to breed, so there’s a lot at stake. Every male wants to be a beachmaster.

Dominance interactions range from displacement to outright battles. The less dominant seal is displaced when he moves away from his more dominant rival. That’s typical. One seal challenges, the other moves away, that settles it. When that doesn’t satisfy the bulls involved, they will battle each other.

Richard Condit, staff scientist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, has studied Northern and Southern Elephant Seal populations. He estimates there are around 215,000 total Northern Elephant Seals.

He presented his information to Friends of the Elephant Seal docents in November. Counting seals is tricky, but good photos of the Piedras Blancas rookery during January and February, when the pups are being born, help. He counts the females even when he can’t see the pups. Counting the successfully weaned pups is easier.

“They are all just sitting there in a pile waiting to be counted,” he said. “Not many animals will do that.”

FES docents in their distinctive blue jackets are available every day at the viewpoint. Ask them for more information about how many seals there are and how long they live.

Read more here: