Elephant Seal News

International viewers mix gawk and awe at elephant seal site

Special to The CambrianJuly 22, 2013 

It’s been a crazy month at the Piedras Blancas elephant seal viewing site. Starting with a four-day holiday weekend with seemingly more visitors than ever, the area continues to be nearly overflowing with people from all over the world.

The docent guides keep clickers in their pockets to record the number of people they actually speak with during their three-hour shifts. Last week I checked my clicker at the end of my shift and was amazed to see that I had spoken to 190 people. This, of course, includes families if the kids are old enough to be listening. In fact, the children are often the most interested and ask some of the best questions. There are hundreds of people we don’t speak to, many of whom don’t speak English. 

There are always Germans, French, British and Australians, and this month there have been many Scandinavians. Sometimes I hear people speaking a language I can’t identify. Adding up the numbers in the docent journals over the four-day weekend, we spoke to 4,423 people.

The adult male seals that are molting this month have congregated on the beach at the north end of the parking lot, as they did last year, so all the visitors are at that end too. And they are enjoying a good show.

These huge guys, who fight fiercely during the winter, are just honing their skills in the summer, jousting and playfighting because there are no females to fight over. As two of them confront each other, they usually vocalize to begin their “I’m bigger than you game.”

If one decides the other’s voice sounds dominant, he will back off. But if he replies with his voice, and they decide they are evenly matched, they stretch their necks to see who is taller. Then they may bang their necks together and nip at each other, but in a playful manner. In a way, they are more fun to watch now because there is rarely bloodshed. There have been quite a few big males playing and vocalizing in the water.

Many visitors ask, “Where are the females?” The answer is, somewhere north or west in the sea, diving and foraging. The adult females are on land only two months of the year — the month in December and January when a mother delivers her pup, nurses it for a month and mates again, and later in the spring when she comes in to molt. 

Younger females and young males will be coming in after the adult males complete their molt. These juveniles will be the attraction for the visitors during what we call the “fall haul out,” when the seals come in to rest.

Get involved

Fall training for new Friends of the Elephant Seal docents begins with a one-day overview Sept. 14, followed by in-depth, three-day training Oct. 12, 19 and 26. The deadline for applications is Sept. 1. For more information or an application, call 924-1628 or go on line at www.elephantseal.org or email fes@elephant seal.org.

Joan Crowder’s Elephant Seal News column is special to The Cambrian. Friends of the Elephant Seal is a nonprofit organization dedicated to educating people about elephant seals. For details, call 924-1628 or visit www.elephantseal.org.

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