This spring there was negotiation, anticipation, waiting time and finally installation of the webcam — called the livecam — at the Piedras Blancas elephant seal viewing site. After some viewing of juveniles snoozing and molting, we were looking forward to July when the big males return from Alaska to molt. The small web camera is mounted on the south end of the boardwalk above the south beach at the site. But this year, the adult males decided to have their annual molt meeting on the beach at the north end of the parking lot. More than 100 of them have been congregating there to relax on the sand, shed a layer of skin, and play their “I’m bigger than you” game, sparring a bit on the beach and playfighting in the water.
Meanwhile, after being told by the docents how much fun it would be to go on line and watch the seals in real time, viewers were sometimes seeing just a screen full of sand. Where were the seals? The operators of the webcam had the task of searching for a seal or a few seals to focus the camera on from time to time. Early on a recent morning, before there were visitors at the site, the camera operator was at his home computer looking for seals and got a surprise. A coyote was harassing a seal down by the water’s edge, jumping around him and carrying on. The seal moved a bit, but the viewer said he seemed more annoyed than afraid.
At the site, a sign in the parking lot directs visitors to the north beach to really see the seals. No one knows why they decided to choose the north rather than the south. However, during the winter birthing and mating months the camera will have plenty of action to focus on, as both the north and south beaches are always filled wall to wall with seals—mothers, pups and alpha males.
Now, on the north beach, the big males, who travel all the way down from their foraging waters in the Aleutian Islands to lie in the sun and molt, are a good show. Their size alone is awesome, and visitors from all over the world are fascinated to see them so close and in their natural environment. The seals ignore the people and the boardwalk and fence and docents protect the people and the seals from each other. This time of year, people are not as inclined to want to get any closer, as the huge males with their booming voices are somewhat intimidating — and they have big pointy canine teeth.
It seems as though there have been more visitors than ever this summer, and it’s always fun to speak with families with kids, who have great questions. One of my favorites was a boy who asked, “Is this like a zoo or is it real?” That one I could answer — “it’s real,” but one adorable little girl asked a question I couldn’t answer. When her mother asked if she had any questions, she looked up sweetly and said, “What are their names?”
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 detials, call 924-1628 or visit www.elephantseal.org.