02-03-2019 06:11 PM - last edited on 02-05-2019 02:01 AM by AlexaAC
Año Nuevo State Park is an amazing natural jewel in the California state park system, it remains undeveloped and protected since the first sailors arrived on January 1, 1603 and named it for New Years Day. It is the mating grounds for many different varieties of seals but the most impressive are the elephant seals.
Elephant seals, prized for the heating oil that could be extracted from their blubber, were nearly hunted to extinction. In 1884, scientists discovered a small colony of eight individuals on Guadalupe island off the coast of Baja California, Mexico. In 1922, The Mexican government declared them endangered and protected.
From that extremely small population of animals the elephant seal has made an astounding recovery. According to Patrick Robinson, our expert from UCSC, the number of elephant seals in the wild today is somewhere around 115,000 individuals! There are approximately 1000 pups born every year right here at Año Nuevo!
The northern elephant seal is one of two species of elephant seal. Elephant seals get their name from their great size and from the male's large proboscis (nose). They use it to make extraordinarily loud roaring noises, especially during the mating competition.
Starting in December, male elephant seals (called “bulls”) arrive at the beaches where they will battle for supremacy! The battles are epic and will continue as long as there are females on the beach. The largest and most successful will collect females (cows) to form a harem of 30-100 or more.
Females arrive at the beach pregnant from the previous year. They will give birth to a single pup that weighs around 60 to 70 pounds (27-31 kg.).
The milk that the females produce is extremely rich. 55% fat and is said to resemble cream cheese. All of that is meant to fatten up the pups very quickly. They nurse for about 4 weeks. Around that time, the mothers will come into estrus and mating with bulls will occur.
For females this means about 2 to 3 months on land. During that entire time they are fasting, give birth and will feed a ravenous baby. After mating they head out to sea to start looking for food. At this point the babies are on their own!
The pups will be around 270 pounds (122kg.) when Mom leaves. They also don't know how to swim. Over the next four weeks they will learn to swim so that they can go out to sea and start feeding on their natural prey of shrimp, squid and fish.
You can see in the graphic below that male elephant seals have been tracked all the way up to the Aleutian islands in Alaska and nearly to Japan. Females don't travel quite as far to find food but they still travel fairly far out into the Pacific Ocean searching.
One of our guides, Dr. Patrick Robinson, Año Nuevo Reserve Director and UC Santa Cruz lecturer was a great source of information. He has made the study of elephant seals his life’s work. We were able to learn a lot about how they managed to get such extremely accurate data on the migration of the seals. If you are interested in learning more about the work being done, you can find them on their Facebook page ---> here.
Año Nuevo protects the elephant seals by limiting the human exposure. In order to see the elephant seals you must be part of a docent guided hike. They carefully schedule these hikes so that only one group at a time is at any one of the many viewpoints. It’s a fragile environment and they have taken great pains to protect it.
It's a wonderful experience to be so close to these gigantic animals. I hope that we will continue to protect them and allow them to increase their numbers.
And what do you do after a three-hour hike into the sand dunes? You head up the road to Pescadero for pie at Duarte's Tavern.....
....and goat cheese from Harley Farms.
A little further up the road you'll find Sam's Chowder House. Known for their unbelievably huge Lobster Roll sandwiches, this place is always packed with cars and people waiting for a seat.
Interested in exploring the Bay Area like a Local Guide? @Twister411 and I are always up for these adventures! Let us know your interested and we'll keep you in the loop for anything we have coming up.