Elephant Seals at Point Reyes
by Marilyn Smulyan on January 01, 2002
Last January, “Ear to the Ground” wrote about the elephant seals at Año Nuevo State Park in San Mateo County, the area’s best known population of these large pinnipeds. But did you know that there is a growing population at another site in the Bay Area? According to park biologists, breeding elephant seals began returning to Drakes Beach at Point Reyes National Seashore in Marin in the 1970s, after an absence of more than 100 years. In the 1800s, the seals were hunted close to extinction for their oil-rich blubber. The “new” colony, which now has more than 1,700 animals, is thought to have come from seals born at the Año Nuevo and Farallon Island rookeries. Population pressures there likely sent pioneers looking for alternate sites. The first elephant seal pup was born at Drakes Beach in 1981; over 400 pups were born there in 2001. These animals are huge—alpha males weigh in at up to 5,000 pounds—and spend most of their life out at sea, diving as far down as a mile to feed. But they come ashore in the winter to give birth and breed. So from December through late March, visitors can watch contests of male dominance and the birthing of pups, and hear the distinct vocalizations of females, pups, and adult males, all from the Elephant Seal Overlook above Drakes Bay. Docents with binoculars, spotting scopes, and a wealth of information are available at the overlook during weekends and holidays.