Milpitas Camera Club Field Trip
Field Trip: Año Nuevo State Reserve
Trip Date: January 19, 2008
Report Author: Dave Herzstein
Report Date: January 23, 2008

Six camera club members and guests met at 8:15 am at the Año Nuevo State Reserve visitor’s center for a morning of photographing Northern Elephant Seals. Although we arrived without reservations for the "Elephant Seal Walk", we hoped to fill in for some no-shows. The first two walks were completely full, filled with a busload of teens. But wait! - the ranger said that there would be a special walk at 10:15 that would fit us all!

We had about an hour to explore around the visitor center area and decided to walk down to the beach. A small creek flowed into a small lagoon and then to the ocean - in the lagoon were two juvenile elephant seals. Both were males too young for breeding and were destined to spend the season on this "loser’s beach". Even among the younger seals, there was an apparent "pecking order" - one chased the other from "his" lagoon.

Northern Elephant Seals (Mirounga angustirostris) are the largest pinnipeds in the northern hemisphere - only the Southern Elephant Seal species is larger. Northern Elephant Seals facts:

  • adult males can reach a length of 18 feet and a weight of 5,000 pounds
  • they have the longest annual migration of any mammal - up to 20,000 miles
  • e-seal pups weigh 60-80 pounds at birth and are weened four weeks later at a weight of 300-600 pounds.
  • they can hold their breath for over 80 minutes - longer than any other non-cetacean mammal
  • they can dive to over 5,000 feet beneath the ocean's surface - deeper than any other mammal
  • they spend up to 80 percent of their lives in the ocean - when feeding, they spend 90% of their time under water (they don’t sleep, except on land)
With temperatures in the 50’s, sunny skies and no wind, we couldn’t have asked for a better day. After hours of walking on sand dunes, photographing and learning about seals (and viewing a coyote on the beach), we headed back to our cars. Lunch at Duarte’s Tavern in Pescadero was what we needed! From artichoke soup to Sierra Nevada Pale Ale to lamb chops to hamburger and ollalieberry pie, we enjoyed our lunch. The planned stop at Butano Redwoods State Park would have to wait for another time - we were just too tied.

View some of my pictures from Año Nuevo:

© 2008 D. J. Herzstein