Four persons attended the rescheduled Saturday, January 17 field trip to
Aņo Nuevo State Reserve
on the San Mateo County Coast. And two or three persons took the seal tour the
weekend before. Both groups got what they came for - some nice elephant seal action.
Our guide provided us with some very interesting information:
The elephant seal is quite an extraordinary animal. In the nineteenth
century these seals and whales were harvested for their oil because
of the large amount of blubber both types of animals stored under their skin.
The blubber was used for household oil for lamps and lubricants. By the 1890s
the elephant seal was believed to have been extinct. A scientist found seven
or eight of them out on a single island in Mexico and promptly shot four for
museum specimens. By the 1930s the seals were strictly protected and their
numbers have come back to a sustainable population. Their genetic diversity,
however, is limited because the population was decimated to just a few animals
- all the present elephant seals descended from that handful of remaining seals.
The seals form colonies for breeding, but do not feed or migrate as part of a group
- they are solitary animals while out in the open ocean. Scientists don't have all
the puzzle pieces regarding elephant seal behavior, but with satellite and radio
transponders, they are able to track the animals and get a better picture of
their migration patterns. Elephant seals are probably the deepest divers of
all sea mammals. They have been tracked to depths of greater than one mile.
Elephant seals feed on squid and fish and do not feed while on land
- while they breed they are utilizing their stored fat.
Aņo Nuevo is the largest breeding colony of Northern Elephant Seals on the California
coast, actually the largest colony in the world. The seal count this past weekend was
about 700, with a nice sampling of males, females, pups and "weaners." Our guide
explained that the "weaners" are, of course, the fat juveniles who are bulking up
on all the mother's milk they can suck down. Pups can sometimes pull off a scam
and try to keep suckling. As long as the mother is receptive to it, the lucky weaner
keeps bulking up until his free ride eventually ends. Seal milk has more than 50
percent fat content and most pups can triple their body weight during the nursing
process. Sometimes a female looses a pup to predators, crushes her own pup or the
pup dies of natural causes and a freelance weaner comes and takes over the former pup's position.
The lucky weaner is then referred to as a "double-mother suckler" and becomes even
fatter. (In elephant seal society, body fat translates to genetic selection and survival
- the fattest, most aggressive bulls get the harems and the smaller bulls sit out the
mating season on the sidelines.)
Taking a cue from the seals, after the tour we made like "weaners" and headed right
over to Duarte's Tavern
in Pescadero and fed on their specialty artichoke cream soup
with piping hot bread and butter. Butta! We also treated ourselves to delicious
linguica sandwiches, crab and avocado and pie and ice cream. After that pile of
delicious food, I felt like a "super weaner!" I got in the car, drove back to Santa
Clara County and beached myself for a couple of hours that afternoon.
Our on-and-off-again field trip turned out to be a fun and interesting event.
You can still make it to Aņo Nuevo and see some good seal action. Parking is $7 per car
and the seal tour is $7 per person. The wild mustard is now in bloom along the coast,
so there are some spectacular views along Highway One this month.
||Aņo Nuevo State Reserve
||January 17, 2009
||January 19, 2009
© 2009 S.R. Hinrichs