Sunday, January 15, 2012

Año Nuevo State Park: Seal Breeding Extravaganza

On Saturday we drove to Pescadero, CA for a guided tour of the elephant seals on the shores of Año Nuevo State Park. I had heard about the tours from a California guide book and had bought tickets a couple months back and, animal lover that I am, was pretty excited for this day to come.

The tour was led by a very informative docent who told us anything a person could ever want to know about elephant seals. The shore of Año Nuevo is the largest mainland breeding colony in the world for the seals and for three months of the year they have tours so you can witness these amazing creatures up close.

From mid-December through mid-January, pregnant females arrive on shore from months out at sea eating and plumping themselves for delivery and nursing. They will give birth and nurse their babies (seal pups are called weaners) until their pup has put on 300 pounds. The males arrive in the meantime and battle other males for breeding access to the lady seals. Once the pup is weaned, the female will mate and go off to sea to repeat the process all over again. The weaners stay on the shore until March, when they go off to sea.

There were several things I thought were sad about the lives of seals (especially female seals). If you were a seal, you'd lead a solitary life alone at sea with virtually no interaction with others. Can you imagine being alone 500 feet down in the cold, dark ocean while watching your back for sharks? Then you make the looong journey to shore to have your baby where you must fast for 5 weeks. But that's not the worst part about your time at shore. The biggest bummer is that there are giant (3-4 times your weight) horny males who try to hop on for a ride before you've even given birth! You have to fight to get the blubbery blobs off of you. And you have to watch them fight and bark at each other to prove who the better man is to mate with you. You go through childbirth by yourself and only get to spend one month with your new sweet pup before it's time for that male with the big head to jump aboard and have his way. Then you return to sea to gorge yourself for the next birth. See. Super depressing, huh? I'm so glad I'm human!

The tour was a 3 mile walk where we came really close to these two:

Remember when I was talking about those amorous hefty males? Let's watch one in action, shall we?

She managed to break free! And this is how we left the unhappy couple. Doesn't it look like her big brown eyes are pleading, "Don't leave me here with this big galoot. Save me!" Poor girl. Here's a couple more big guys laying in the sand along our walk down to the beach:

Check out that schnoz! The males develop those trunk-like noses with age.

Do you see the babies?!

Before we headed home we stopped at Harley Goat Farm (read a previous post here about this amazing place!) for a visit to their cheese shop. Yum!

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