The Cambrian

Elephant Seal News: What next? Penguins in the Roman Pool?

This elephant seal may just be bellowing, ‘I am NOT the walrus.’
This elephant seal may just be bellowing, ‘I am NOT the walrus.’ PHOTO BY JOAN CROWDER

Walruses at Hearst Castle —Oh, my! On a recent flight, Sharkey Warrick, a longtime volunteer docent guide for Friends of the Elephant Seal, was thumbing through the United Airlines magazine “Hemispheres” when he came across a piece on great road trips. California’s Highway 1 was among them. The brief paragraph ended with “…finish the day by communing with walruses at the Hearst Castle.”

There was even a small drawing of a creature that looks like a seal with tusks.

One can only guess where the writer got his or her misinformation and why the idea didn’t seem bizarre. And locals may find that the imagery brings to mind a scene of bewhiskered and tusked arctic walruses lounging around the Castle’s Neptune Pool.

Or you might think of rephrasing the Beatles tune “I Am the Walrus” to “I Am NOT the Walrus.”

The United Airlines writer is not the only one to mistake elephant seals for walruses. Perhaps a photo of an elephant seal was interpreted as that of a walrus. At the Piedras Blancas viewing area, visitors occasionally ask if the huge seals are walruses, or ask, “Where are their tusks?” But a “reporter” should have done a little research. And why would walruses — or seals —be at Hearst Castle? There is no mention of a beach or an ice floe.

Well, there are zebras near the Castle—why not walruses?

Visitors to the elephant seal viewing site often ask surprising questions, and the docents are there to answer them. Someone from the Midwest asked, “What lake is this?” And another woman asked, “When do they lay their eggs?”

It’s pretty easy to identify the Pacific Ocean and to explain that seals are mammals, just like we are, but you wouldn’t expect that sort of question from a journalist.

Some of the seals that are on the beach at Piedras Blancas now are as large or larger than walruses. The average size of a male elephant seal is greater than that of a male walrus. The adult male seals are lying on the beach shedding a layer of skin and hair in their annual molt. They don’t bellow, fight and bite each other like they do in the winter when the females are here, but they do challenge each other in sparring matches on the beach and in the water. They provide a little action for the human audience, but it’s all a bluff during the summer, and after a little playtime, they huddle together at water’s edge and use each other as pillows. They look comfortably soft, and they don’t have tusks.

Joan Crowder is a volunteer docent for Central Coast Friends of the Elephant Seal. For more information, call 924-1628 or visit www.elephantseal.org.

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