This is a great little family friendly “hike” on flat, well-maintained trails. I went with a Meetup group and we took a leisurely out-and-back stroll through the park to see juvenile elephant seasons. In late November, this means that the breeding season has already taken place, and that pregnant females are on their way back from sea to return in a week or two to give birth.
The docents on this trail are extremely knowledgeable about this species. I learned a great deal about their life cycle, gestation process, and breeding season. The gist of what I learned is that despite the constant, awkward flatulent-like noises these creatures make, they really are quite remarkable. Phenomenal, even.
First of all, they’re huge. I should mention that literally every seal I’ve photographed here is just a child (a juvenile male less than 8 years old, to be specific), and they’re already huge. Adult males, though, can grow to be 16 feet and over 8,000 lbs (though most end up being around 6,000 lbs). To illustrate just how friggin’ big that is, that’s over 3 times heavier than my damned car (a 2013 Hyundai Elantra). That’s… kind of terrifying.
Elephants need all that weight because when they come to the shore for their mating season, they literally don’t leave the beach until it’s over. This means that they don’t eat or drink for up to three months. The females in particular have it rough. After giving birth, their little ones gain around 300 lbs in their first month of life. That means that the female is basically transferring most of her body mass to her new pup without any food or water to support her in the process.
In addition to the ability to just withstand horrible conditions, elephant seals have an amazing capacity for deep dives. A docent told me that they can dive longer than any other mammal in the world. He also told me that University of California research students recorded that a female dove for 1 hour and 59 minutes on a single breath! That’s the record, so far. Pretty incredible, huh?
After a nice, educational walk to the end of the Año Nuevo trail, we retraced our steps and visited Cove Beach. We had the beach to ourselves except for a well-mannered nudist, who quickly dressed himself when he saw that we were headed his way to check out this small cave.
And after that, we made our way back to the parking lot and headed down Highway 1 for a quick trip to Natural Bridges State Beach.
A very fun morning, indeed. 🙂
Until next time,