Sea Elephants

The last time I visited the sea elephants at Ano Nuevo State Park, you could walk out onto the beach on a docent-led tour that took you within yards of these massive marine mammals, the largest pinnipeds in the northern hemisphere. Now, almost thirty years later, the beach has been taken away by the fingers of the ceaseless tide. You can no longer walk among the seals but on this foggy November morning I was blessed with a large gathering of juvenile seals and a high tide, placing them at the base of the viewing area.

What prompted me to make a right turn into Ano Nuevo on my way to Santa Cruz, was the book I am currently reading to my fourth graders: Island of the Blue Dolphins. This book is loosely based on the Lone Woman of San Nicolas Island. In one chapter, the main character, Karana, tries to hunt a sea elephant (northern elephant seal) for it’s tusks. It has been a long time since I have seen elephant seals up close and to my surprise I was about to see them very close.

On the way out to Ano Nuevo Point, a sign noted that there were 50-60 seals at the South Point viewing area and 200+ juvenile seals at the North Point viewing area. I first stopped off at South Point and looked over the bluff to see a juvenile cow, right below me on the beach. There was no use for my binoculars as I sketched her into the lower right hand corner of my journal. I then immediately headed out to North Point. The tide was high and all the seals were pushed into the cove making viewing easy on the eyes. I filled in the rest of the page with layer upon layer of sleeping seals and two young males sparring in the surf. As I was sketching, the docent, who had been out for 13 seasons, told me she had never seen the seals so close. I guess timing is everything.

There was one thing missing from my sketch and that was the emblematic adult bulls. These huge, two ton seals with oversized snouts and deeply scarred chests would be arriving in December and January to claim their patch of the sand to try and become the beach master. There were plenty of four year old males sparring with each other in a mock fight, honing their skills for a real grudge match in four or five years time.

To sketch an adult male I had to head further south to the Seymour Marine Discovery Center at U.C. Santa Cruz. Here I found the three life-sized statues of a bull, cow and calf. I sketched the male on the left side of the page. I certainly had no problem sketching this specimen, he wasn’t going anywhere.

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25 feet! I can barely stay back 15!

 

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