December 21, 2005

A day by the sea...

Charlene, Rob, Betsy and I joined our friends Dave Trowbridge, Deborah Ross and their daughter Rose, for an excursion to A�o Nuevo State Reserve, to see the Elephant Seals. They are one of nature's extravagances, and this little spit and offshore island called A�o Nuevo is the only place in the world you can get a good look at them. They only come on land once a year, for mating and calving.

There's no easy way to convey their scale in a picture--you do NOT want to go stand next to them--but the big male lifting his head in the middle of the picture is probably 15" long, and weighs about 5,000 lb. (4.57 meter, 2267 kg). The slug-like blobs on the left are his harem of females.
Elephant Seals at A�o Nuevo
That guy could be dangerous if he thought you were another male, or if you got between him and a male he wanted to drive away. Though they move on land by sort of galumpfing along with their blubbery bodies they can hit up to 35 mph for a short run, before overheating. They look absurd on land, but at sea they are superb predators, diving as deep as 5,000 feet (1524 meters) twice as deep as our subs go, to gorge on squid. They spend perhaps 8 minutes on the surface breathing and the rest of an hour underwater. They also sleep underwater, and we saw one in a shallow pond, happily snoozing with his head under water.

It was a very misty and rainy day, and a few hours hiking on the dunes made us very glad to get back to our van for some of Charlene's awesome Red Bell Pepper soup.

Elephant Seal at A�o Nuevo
Here's a closer look at one...We were cold and wet, but he spends most of his life in freezing water, and finds the land too warm for comfort...

Posted by John Weidner at December 21, 2005 10:33 PM
Weblog by John Weidner