Tuesday, May 6, 2008
King of the Beach
These animals used to be hunted for their blubber, and in the early 1900s were thought to be extinct, but there were a few left on an island off Baja California. Present day elephant seals are descended from that group. They began to appear on the beaches in the San Simeon area in the late 1990s. The growing rookery was visible from Highway 1, and began to attract the attention of passersby, sometimes even causing traffic jams as people stopped to look.
Now California State Parks owns the land, and wardens and rangers patrol there regularly. Docents provide information to visitors. There are barriers there to keep people from bothering the elephant seals, or vice versa, and a parking lot has been created for interested travelers in order to prevent traffic jams.
A friend and I went up to San Simeon a couple of months ago on a cold, windy, wet day. We were shivering as we approached the fence and saw hundreds of big blubbery bodies laid out on the beach basking in the horrible weather. Only an elephant seal could have enjoyed it.
As we were leaving, we saw a seal out of the enclosure and in the ditch along Highway 1. We wondered about it, and two or three days later we heard on the news that an elephant seal had crossed the road and ventured onto Hearst ranch. A day or two after that there were pictures in the paper of the seal enjoying himself in a little pool. All the powers that be were trying to figure out how to coax him back across the road, and back to the rookery. It took several more days for them to finally succeed in getting the runaway, well, the flopaway, back home safely.
There were no quotes from the miscreant seal, so there was no way to know how he felt about his experience, and whether or not he was glad to get back home. But I do know he looked awfully happy taking his ease in that private pool.