Cambrian: Opinion

Elephant seals expand to new beaches in San Simeon. And volunteers needed to educate public

The beach at Piedras Blancas is filling up with young elephant seals. They come onto the sand in the fall for a six-week haul-out.

It’s a chance for the seals to rest between their two annual migrations. When they are out in the ocean, they are not swimming along the surface, or in any kind of straight line. They dive down and come up, dive down and come up, taking two or three minutes at the surface to take a breath, expel the air, and dive down again.

Elephant seals don’t seem to mind the people looking at them from the bluffs. Other species, sea lions and harbor seals, are more wary of humans. They keep their distance, scattering back to the water if people come near. A sea lion or harbor seal that doesn’t retreat when a human approaches is probably sick.

Friends of Elephant Seals seeking volunteers

Elephant seals are different from most other wildlife in that respect. Although they’ve generally avoided beaches used by the public in the past, the number coming to San Simeon Cove during the winter breeding season is increasing. A new program through State Parks and Friends of the Elephant Seals is recruiting volunteers to help keep everyone safe.

The seals coming to San Simeon are less dominant bulls who have lost out in the mating hierarchy. They usually have fought and lost. Some have substantial wounds. They need the beach to recuperate and gather their strength for the next migration and the coming year.

Many visitors who come to San Simeon Cove are unfamiliar with the seals. They may not even recognize a sleeping seal isn’t a rock. Elephant seals usually aren’t aggressive, but it’s not smart to get close to any 5,000-pound animal.

Training provided for new guides

The FES Winter Guide program is looking for people who are willing to come to San Simeon Cove and help the public enjoy the beach and the seals safely. After one day of training on Saturday, Dec. 7, docents will work in two shifts, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 12:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Docents will be stationed at the cove on weekends and holidays from mid-December through March.

Get started by attending one of two public information meetings, at 5:30 p.m. Nov. 13, at the Morro Bay Museum of Natural History, 20 State Park Road; and at 10 a.m. Nov. 16 at Cavalier Plaza, 250 San Simeon Ave., San Simeon. Fill out an application through the Friends of the Elephant Seal website www.elephantseal.org/docents.htm or contact FES at 805-924-1628 or fes@elephantseal.org with questions.

“This is a great opportunity for members of our community to be part of the continued protection, education, and interpretation of these unique and magnificent animals,” State Parks District Superintendent Dan Falat said.

The Central Coast is fortunate to have elephant seals making their home here. We are all neighbors, and can learn to get along.

Christine Heinrichs is a certified California naturalist who writes about wildlife.
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