Seal the Deal

On the last leg of the road trip, I took the long way home, the one with the prettiest of views…

We decided to drive up the coast of California and it was a stunningly beautiful coastal day; a mix of just the right amount of fog to punctuate the otherwise hardly detectable difference between the ocean blue and blue skies.  For awhile, we cruised behind a zippy red sports car and we tried to keep up, imagining that we were them!  But, before too long, we lost them, as  we made the first of many stops along the way to take in the view.  What we found at this stop was the perfect beginning to the ending of a wonderful vacation.

It truly ‘sealed’ the deal for us.

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Elephant Seals

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This guy is 5,000 pounds, and 16 feet long!

Along California’s central coast is a population of Elephant Seals. Turns out, we passed by during the quiet time of the year; hundreds of the seals were lounging about on the beach, but come January through May?  The ‘rookery’ as it is called, will be home to thousands of these guys and gals.

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Plenty of space!

Elephant Seals spend eight to ten months a year in the open ocean, diving 1000 to 5000 feet deep for periods of fifteen minutes to two hours, surfacing for maybe 3-5 minutes before plunging to the depths again.  They migrate thousands of miles, twice a year, to their land based rookery for birthing, breeding, molting and rest.  The rookery we saw is along Highway  1,  seven miles north of San Simeon and is home to about 17,000 animals.

When you think of hanging out on the beach, wouldn’t you think of snacks, roasting hot dogs, enjoying a beer?  Right?  Well, not the 5,000 lb elephant seals. They go on a diet while on land, and when on the beach, they do not eat.

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They fling sand on their backs to keep cool.

The adult animals come on to the beach in the winter for the birthing and breeding season with adult males arriving in late November or early December when they contest for a dominant position on the beach. Winners in that contest are referred to as alpha males or beach masters.  Funny, some things are so similar across different species…

Another interesting similarity? The peak of mating is around Valentine’s Day.  And then, the females leave.

The Elephant seals form harems, in which the dominant, or alpha, male is surrounded by a group of females.  Mother Nature’s Bachelor show? On the periphery of the harem, the beta bulls wait in hopes of an opportunity to mate.  They assist the alpha bull in keeping away the less dominant males. Fights between males can be bloody affairs in which the combatants rear up and slam their bodies against each other, slashing with their large canine teeth.  However, not all confrontations end in battle.  Rearing up on their hindquarters, throwing back their heads, showing off the size of their noses and bellowing threats is enough to intimidate most challengers.

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So, which one is the alpha male?  Will he get the girl?

The rookery is a very noisy place during the breeding season as males bellow threat vocalizations, pups squawk to be fed, and females squabble with each other over prime location and pups.  Kind of just like families, right?  Gargles, grunts, snorts, belches, bleats, whimpers, squeaks, squeals, and the male trumpeting combine to create the elephant seal symphony of sound.

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One of the young pups. Oh, so much to learn….

Siblings

Siblings

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Solitary?

What is an elephant seal? A deep-sea diver, a long distance traveler, an animal that fasts for long periods of time, elephant seals are extraordinary. They come together on land to give birth, mate, and molt but at sea they are solitary. Tremendous demands are placed on their bodies.

Yep, sealed the deal for us!

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72 thoughts on “Seal the Deal

  1. Great photos. Always have been a big fan of seals. Remember seeing a bunch in our travels through Doubtful Sound in New Zealand. Excellent post. Keep it up!

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    • Hi Jettfrogg..thanks so much, and it’s great to know these guys and gals have some cousins halfway around the world. I appreciate you stopping by!

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  2. Huge congrats, Bonnie, on getting Freshly Pressed. Beautiful photos and great post. We too have visited the seals along that stretch of California coastline. They are magnificent creatures, no doubt.

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    • Peter, thanks for your note! I hope you and your girlfriend get a chance to visit the Central Coast of CA – so much natural beauty in that whole region, including of course the Elephant Seals! Thanks for being here!

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  3. Cool find! I love finding unexpected things in nature. What a treat! Today a friend and I looked up during a walk and saw a huge barred owl on a branch overhead. It was amazing. I could just watch stuff like that all day. Thanks for sharing these wonderful photos and great info. Congrats on FP!

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    • Hi there..and thanks so much! Awesome on the owl, aren’t they just such amazing birds to see in person? I am so glad you enjoyed my images of the Elephant Seals..that makes my day!

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  4. Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed. I was there a few years back in March and was amazed by the number of seals. It was fun taking abstract close-up photos of the seals laying on top of each other. You got some terrific shots!

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    • Alison, thank you so much – it’s been an honor to be in the FP! I love that you got there and in March, it must have been just amazing to see, apparently there are thousands of the Elephant Seals that time of year. I bet your images are amazing!!

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  5. I’ve always liked that section of California for its scenery…the proximity of mountains and ocean views plus its still relatively remote feel. I haven’t been there for quite a while, so thanks for sharing the pics and reminding me of some happy drives along those shores.

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    • Happy to refresh your good memories of that area, it is indeed spectacular and so unique. I hope you get to make a trip back to the area sometime!

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  6. Awesome pics. I’m so jealous. We went to that exact spot when we drive up the west coast, but it was in July and there wasn’t a single elephant seal at that time.

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    • Thank you so much…I can’t believe that in just a month’s time what a difference it was. I was there in mid-August and surprised at how many. And, then to learn that come January or so, it will be SO many more! I am glad you got a glimpse, even if just in photos.

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    • Aaron thank you so much – they are definitely such interesting creatures, aren’t they! Watching them battle for position was great! Thanks for stopping by!

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  7. Hey! Congrats on being Fresh Pressed! This is such a wonderful piece – I enjoyed it the moment I first read it – now it is even more special!

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    • Sealies! I love that! Especially the oxymoron-like nature of it…such an endearing term for something so massive and bullish! Very curious creatures, most definitely. Thanks for stopping by!

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      • I also say seaglies instead of gulls. Might as well have fun on the beach.

        I’m jealous you got so close. Around here, the coastline is so rugged and remote that only a telephoto lens captures the experience of 5000 pounds of bellowing cuteness.

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    • Thanks Liz…laughing!! I like your note of comparison. What would you serve while watching today’s program? They are such interesting creatures, and totally new to me as well! And definitely a fun find along our travels. And, now we know!! 🙂

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    • Thanks..it was definitely a cool suprise to find along the way home! And so interesting…I had never learned about Elephant Seals before..interesting creatures!

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  8. I love the pics – and have seen the bulls compete on a documentary on Animal Planet – they really are aggressive!! How cool that you got to see them during their mellow time, and could take the time to get up close and personal (without showing anyone how big or small your noses are)..xox

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    • Thanks Mims! The are amazing…I didn’t realize why they were butting each other’s noses/heads until AFTER I got home!! The park person handed me an info sheet as we walked back to the car – such interesting creatures!! And yes, we didn’t get up close and personal..no one allowed anywhere near that beach/rookery. Fun surprise along the way. xoxo

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