How strange to call this planet 'Earth' when quite clearly it is ocean. Arthur C. Clarke

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Año Nuevo State Park

As part of my Seymour Center docent training, I went with the other volunteers to Año Nuevo State Park to experience the rookery of elephant seals.

Map of Año Nuevo from

A sign near the visitor's center.

View from a trail.

Año Nuevo State Park is close to Santa Cruz, only about 30 miles north on Hwy 1. Normally, visitors must schedule a guided tour of the rookery if they want to see the seals, because the seals don't care much about visitor safety. They are on the beach once a year to give birth and breed from about December to March (excluding March). During this time, they don't eat or drink, and the males try to gain control of a harem of females in which to obtain mates. This system is actually beneficial for the females, because the dominant male defends her from other males that may harass her.

My favorite facts I learned while at the park were about weight: when mothers feed their pups milk for a few weeks, the moms lose about 200 lbs and the pups gain about 200 lbs! Then the moms leave for the rest of the year to eat back their weight, and the pups stay on the beach for two months while their bodies process all the fat they just gained until they are ready to swim.

We learned a lot about the research being done through UCSC under scientist Dr. Colleen Reichmuth and colleagues. They are trying to understand how the seals communicate vocally, and were on the beach with us recording seal sounds. I can't share the pictures I took of the seals unless it is education-related, so if you learned something from the above paragraphs, email me and I can send you a cool picture or two that you should not share publicly.

*Update: I have since helped Dr. Dan Costa's lab members weigh the weaned pups on the beach. Their research is focused on the life history and feeding ecology of the seals. There were hundreds of them at the beach, looking like sacs of blubber and making cute, guttural screaming noises. Some of them were farther up in the shrubs chewing on leaves. When we would walk by to check their flippers, they would throw their heads back to let out a baby scream and reveal bright green foliage inside their hot pink-colored mouths. We weighed, tagged, and measured them from 7 to 10 am.

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