The west coast of the United States attracts motorists from all over the world with its picturesque roads along the Pacific Ocean. When travelling along the scenic Highway One, which is about a thousand kilometres long, travellers will find inspiring views, seafood, and the opportunity to see with their own eyes the northern elephant seals. Travellizy will tell you where to see these beautiful animals.
What Do Elephant Seals Look Like And Where Can You See Them In Nature?
This is the largest mammal predator that can be observed on the shores of the western coast of the United States without diving into ocean waters and without visiting the aquarium. And even in the aquarium, the elephant seal is a very rare guest. Due to the extremely complex lifestyle and method of reproduction, keeping it in captivity is almost impossible.
The elephant seal is a real giant, as the name suggests. Males can reach a length of 4-5 meters and a weight of up to 2.5 tons. Females are also not babies, although they are much inferior to males in size: the length of the body is 2.5-3.6 m and the weight is 400-900 kg. Speaking about males, their nose grows up to 30 cm long, which gives it a resemblance to the land elephant. To make it easier to imagine the power of these animals, just remember that their weight and length are approximately equal to a regular off-road car.
In the Pacific Ocean, there is a predator that is larger than the elephant seal in size, it is a killer whale. This ruthless hunter is ten meters long and weights five tons, you wouldn't wish such an enemy on anyone. But the killer whale does not leave the ocean, while elephant seals spend up to 20% of their lives on land.
On land, elephant seals look funny and inactive, but in water, despite their enormous weight and size, they behave like real killing machines. They hunt in deep waters, cleverly catching squid, sometimes fish and crustaceans. Diving for food lasts up to two hours, and the depth at which the elephant seals provide themselves with food reaches one and a half kilometres. It is amazing that such a busy rhythm of life and nutrition alternates with interruptions when elephant seals do not eat anything for three to four months. It is at this time when they move to the beaches of the West Coast of the United States, so thousands of nature lovers seek to watch elephant seals.
There are two popular places in California where you can do this. They vary in format, but in both cases, you can satisfy your interest in biology.
Ano Nuevo: Winter Excursions
The best option for observing elephant seals is a tour of the Año Nuevo Natural Reserve. They don't offer independent walks, so you need to sign up for a guided tour. Tours are carried out only in the winter season from December to March because the beaches will be empty at other times: elephant seals get fat in the water column thousands of kilometres away from California. Having thoroughly eaten, they will move inshore to comfortably accommodate on the Pacific coast.
Tours are held daily and they last approximately two hours. If you think that you can just come and buy a ticket, then alas, this does not always work out. Ano Nuevo is a popular local attraction. Many families with children love to come here on weekends, and groups are small. Therefore, if you want to secure your entry ticket at a convenient time for you, you must reserve a place on the park's website in advance.
There are almost always tickets on weekdays. Booking for the next season begins in October, but keep in mind that elephant seals will leave the shores of California by the end of March, and instead of thousands of animals you will see a couple of dozen.
The tour route is chosen by the volunteer guide. Since sea elephants sometimes block passages, guides constantly inform each other by walkie-talkie about changes.
Sea elephants are not considered to be dangerous to humans, but humans are dangerous to them. Due to uncontrolled whalers' catch, these ocean colossi were almost completely eliminated at the end of the 19th century and even declared as extinct. Only the fact that they spend most of their life in the water column saved the species from extinction: a small herd of 100 animals found refuge on an island remote from civilization near California. It is this herd that is the ancestors of all the living descendants, which number is more than 200,000. But scientists continue to take care of the safety of these cute predators: there is a strong possibility, that due to genetic restrictions, they will not survive changes in living conditions or epidemics.
During the tour, you can’t get food and drink anything except water. In any place where the group passes, animals can also pass, which means that the ecological cleanliness of the reserve depends on visitors. During the walk, beautiful views open:
The behaviour of elephant seals on the beach depends entirely on their biorhythm. Males come in November-December and secure sections of the beaches. What happens here resembles a war zone in an aviary. Militant screams, fights, blood and wounds - this is what the battle for survival looks like.
Only the strongest and most courageous males will be able to form their harem, the number of females in which can reach up to a hundred. But groups are usually much smaller.
When pregnant females arrive, the beach is already divided. Having looked around, they give birth to charming cubs and feed them for four weeks. They do not hunt mothers at this time, which means they do not eat or drink.
Is it hard to become an alpha male? To answer this question, you just need to think a little: only one percent of elephant seals will be able to have a harem and offspring. Many babies will be crushed by nestmates, or they will be washed away by the surf. Some of them will become the feast to predators, but others will not be able to learn how to hunt and die from exhaustion. But even in adulthood, sea elephants are not very happy: most of them will not be able to defeat alpha and will simply swim alone for years.
Sad weak males weekly hang around near the beaches, where their more successful nestmates live. Lonely, inactive, they make sluggish attempts to get closer to someone else's harem from time to time.
But sensitive mothers immediately begin to yell, attracting the alpha male's attention. He defends his harem, often does not even use physical force: a threatening roar and posture is enough for the loser to crawl to a respectful distance.
In winter, it is very windy near the ocean or cold on cloudy days, it may rain as well. The tour is held in any weather, so you should definitely take warm clothes with you, preferably a waterproof jacket or windbreaker. On a rainy day, you will not be allowed to open the umbrella in order not to disturb the animals.
Piedras Blancas: A Large Nesting Area
If you are not sure that you are ready to spend 2-2.5 hours familiarizing yourself closely with the nuances of elephant seals' life, but you want to make unusual shots and see them live, then the Piedras Blancas Rookery observation point is at your service.
It is located near the small town of San Simeon halfway from San Francisco to Los Angeles. This is a conveniently located platform for observing the giant nesting of elephant seals. Many tourists who visit Hearst Castle come here to observe at the elephant seals, so to speak, without SMS and registration. The entrance to the site and parking is free. And there is definitely something to see: up to 18,000 individuals live on the six-kilometre stretch of coast. They come here throughout the year, but peaks occur in January, April and October.
This place is believed to be the most convenient in the world for observing elephant seals: next to the highway, there is a beautiful track, free parking, no entry fees, no need to reserve places.
A Popular Meme: Homunculus Loxodontus, or The One Who Waits
A curious fact: a few years ago, Homunculus Loxodontus or The Elephant Man made by the Dutch artist Margaret Van Brefort became a super-popular meme over the Internet. Many people have been fallen in love with this cute fat man, who is humbly waiting near the doctor’s office. As you can see, the elephant seal became his prototype.
If you are fond of animals and curious, you will enjoy watching the elephant seal colonies in California. These chubby giants and their cute cubs with big eyes will win your heart forever!