Saturday, August 18, 2012

Elephant Seal

In March, after visiting Morro Bay, California, Erika and I continued up the California coast. Just a couple of miles north of the Hearst Castle, along The Pacific Coast Highway, lies a rather inauspicious rest area along the rocky cliffs looking over the ocean. A small sign advertises "Elephant Seal Viewing Area." This area is well worth the stop. Hundreds (and sometimes thousands) of these huge pinnipeds congregate on the beaches below the cliffs. The seals spend most of their lives at sea, coming to shore only to molt, give birth, mate, and, in this case, power nap (California Parks).

In the 1800s, Elephant Seals were almost exterminated for oil made from their blubber.  By 1892, fewer than 100 survived off Baja California. In 1922 the Mexico protected these seals, with the United States following a few years later (California Parks). The seals recovered, and, surprisingly, came to this roadside rest in 1990. The breeding season is from December through February (Amwest.travel). Noisy males fight for harems. Females arrive and give birth to young conceived the previous year (the fertilized egg delays implanting on the uterine wall for four months). After birth, the young gains almost 300 pounds in less than a month. Some pups nurse from two or three females. By April, most females and young migrate northwest to the coasts of Washington, British Columbia and Alaska. From July through August, only molting males are likely to be found at the seal beach.

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