We took advantage of the unseasonably warm (even for California) weather (mid-70s!) and headed out to the beach yesterday for a last coastal hurrah before M takes off for Australia (tonight). First stop: Pescadero, for our very favorite lunch outing –green chili soup from Duarte’s Tavern (and their warm Sourdough bread), and artichoke garlic herb bread from Arcangeli’s Grocery for a nice lunch facing the beautiful Pacific Ocean. 


After leisurely savoring our lunch, we headed further south along the coast to Año Nuevo State Reserve.  It’s elephant seal season, and we thought we’d try our luck at an open spot on a guided walk, the only way to see the reserve at this time of year.  We’d been turned away before, and were pretty excited to find out there was space available on the next tour.  Wahoo!


We paid for our tickets, and after a brief look around the visitor center, began our walk to staging area where we met our docent Darcee.  It was late enough in the afternoon that we didn’t have to squeeze in among large groups of schoolchildren.  Instead, we had a pleasantly small group — a few older fellows, a couple and their 3-year-old, and a family of 5.  Darcee was very enthusiastic and knowledgeable.


Some elephant seal factoids:

* Unlike other types of seals, elephant seals molt once yearly, rather than shed fur throughout the year.  The elephant seals come to shore to molt, as their typical deep-diving lifestyle cannot be maintained while molting their main source of insulation.  Females molt in April, adolescents in May, and older males in June.

* Elephant seals are very deep divers!  They typically dive for 15-20 minutes at a time before resurfacing to breathe.  The record for staying underwater is 2 hours.

* Elephants seals lead solitary lives after departing from their harems on shore during breeding/mating season.  Females head for Hawai’i twice a year, while males head north along the continental shelf for Alaska.

(The joke is that the females get two trips to Hawai’i and a new fur coat every year, while the males go hunting and fishing up in Alaska ; )

* Elephant seal pups weigh between 60-80 lbs at birth.  Within their 28-day weaning period, they gain about 250 lbs.  Bear in mind that this weight is going straight from their mothers (who don’t feed at all during this period) to the pups.  

* After the weaning period, the pups are on their own to learn to swim and fend for themselves.  (Moms are heading to Hawai’i…)

* Males live for about 13-15 years, and at maturity can weigh up to 5,000 lbs.  


Elephant seals are absolutely fascinating creatures.  If you get a chance to take the guided walk at Año Nuevo, take it!  If not, go and see them from the boardwalk at the Piedras Blancas rookery near Cambria, CA, a bit further south along the coast.


~ by ... on 14 January 2009.

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