The Charming Elephant Seals of Pt. Reyes National Seashore

Elephant seals have the look of an animal put together by a committee. It gives them a certain charm. We found this large fellow with his pronounced proboscis at Drake’s Beach. He’d come ashore at Pt. Reyes National Seashore looking for love.

Pt. Reyes National Seashore is located some 30 miles north of San Francisco. Peggy and I went there last week to celebrate my birthday. It’s been a go-to place for me since the 60s. In addition to spectacular scenery, great hikes, yummy food, and one of the best small bookstores I’ve ever been in, we were entertained by the wildlife: tule elk, a pair of sushi eating coyotes, and elephant seals (plus some cows).  Today, I want to do a teaser on our trip by featuring the elephant seals. I’ll get back to the rest after I finish my Harris Beach series. 

Elephant seals are amazing creatures that spend up to 80% of their lives at sea— 90 % of it underwater!  If that doesn’t seem remarkable enough, consider this: their normal dives for food range between 1000 and 2000 feet deep (305 to 610 meters). They can dive for up to an hour and a half before returning to the surface for three to five minutes of breathing. Semi-annual feeding binges take the males on a 13,000-mile roundtrip journey to the Aleutian Islands and females on a 11,000-mile roundtrip into the North Pacific.

They were absent from Pt. Reyes for 150 years. In fact, they were close to absent forever. Like whales, they came close to being hunted to extinction for their oil. Processing the blubber from one bull can produce up to 25 gallons. They were saved because the Mexico and the US banned hunting them in the 1920s. Gradually, they have returned to their old breeding grounds. When I first started visiting Pt. Reyes in the 60s, they were unheard of in the area. Today there are over 3000 that return annually to breed.

The Park Service had set up a barrier to separate the seals from the people who had come to admire them at Drake’s Beach. Those closest to the barrier were bulls. You can tell by their size and uniquely shaped noses. One had crossed the barrier and was worrying the rangers. “He’s escaping from the other bulls,” a ranger explained. Maybe.

This large bull had crossed through the barriers at Drakes Beach and was pointed toward the snack bar. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

A little girl next to me exclaimed, “I think he is heading to the snack bar to get fish sticks!”

“I’d bet on ice cream,” I responded. “Look at how big he is.” The girl looked at me dubiously. “Fish sticks” she insisted.

Peggy and I spent an hour watching these wonderful creations of nature who are so competent at sea and ungainly on land. They move like an inchworm, using their dorsal flippers to pull their front half forward and then using their rear flippers to push the rest of their body along like a rolling wave. Imagine moving several tons of fat. The ones we watched would make two or three of these moves and then collapse to rest.

Given their trunk-like noses and appealing eyes, Peggy and I were particularly attracted to the looks on their faces.

Is this fellow being coy?
Check out the big brown eyes! The size of the eyes helps the elephant seal see in the dark depths of the ocean. The whiskers apparently help as well in the search for food. He had lifted his head to check us out. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
And then returned to his resting position. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
A side glance. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
A bit shy, perhaps. Maybe he thought that the log was hiding him.
Size matters. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
This was interesting. The skin of the elephant seals is sensitive to the sun. They cope by throwing sand over their bodies with their flippers, as seen in this photo.
Sometimes a little stretch really feels good! (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Peggy caught some of the girls sunbathing out near the ocean…
Drake’s Bay was named for Sir Francis Drake who reputedly visited the area in 1759. There’s another bull on the left— looking sluggish.
I’ll conclude today with this elephant seal that was making its way back toward the ocean. I decided he was waving goodbye with his flipper. I’ll return to the tide pools of Harris Beach in Oregon next week. Are you aware that groups of sea anemones go to war with each other?

NEXT POSTS:

Monday’s Blog-a-Book… “It’s 4 AM and a Bear Is Standing on Top of Me”: I move outside in the summer to enjoy nature but hire the family’s dogs and cats to protect me from the ghosts.

Wednesday’s Blog-a-Book… “The Bush Devil Ate Sam”: Held at gunpoint, I consider the odds of running over the gunman versus getting shot.

36 thoughts on “The Charming Elephant Seals of Pt. Reyes National Seashore

  1. I’m so glad you posted this. On our one trip to Pt. Reyes, the area was socked in by fog, and we saw very little. Now we have another reason for a return trip — seals! And they’re mammoth! What a beautiful part of our country! Thanks for sharing.

    • I’ll be sharing more of the beauty, Rusha. We had a week of great weather. Fall, winter and spring are often the best time to visit if you miss the storms. Fog is much more prevalent in the summer. Thanks. –Curt

  2. I am always happy to hear that a species has been allowed to return to their natural way of life! Hopefully when all the pandemic guidelines go away, people won’t re-destroy that which has had the chance to repair this past year!

  3. We saw them there in 2012. I had no idea they spent so much time in the water. They looked liked they never left the beach.

    By the way, ice cream!

    Or perhaps that’s because I impulse bought a quart this afternoon.

    • 2012 reminds me of how long it has been since I returned to Pt. Reyes. One of the few disadvantages of our moving to Oregon. I won’t let it be so long again. Peggy and I have committed to getting there at least once a year. It was like returning home, Ray.
      Yay on the ice cream! –Curt

  4. OMG these pics are fabulous Curt and so glad you had such a great time.
    The day was crystal clear and can often be foggy. Makes me want to go again soon!
    loved him at the snack bar… 🤣🤣🤣🤣

  5. I learned a good bit I didn’t know about these creatures, Curt. Great post! The photos, of course, are a disarming combination of weird and charming. I’d love to see these in real life. And I must add — that little girl was being perfectly logical, but there’s no doubt in my mind that our boy was after ice cream, not fish sticks!

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