Elephant Seal Hauls out at Hopkins Marine Station
December 19, 2012
It’s hard to miss the new arrival on Hopkins Marine Station’s West Beach. He’s easily visible from the recreational trail on Ocean View Boulevard, resting peacefully next to hundreds of harbor seals. (The above photo is taken by Hopkins Head Librarian Joe Wible.)
The harbor seals aren’t small, but the newcomer makes them look like pudgy newborn puppies.
Last Sunday afternoon, a large male elephant seal hauled out on the Pacific Grove beach. His arrival was recorded by a volunteer with Bay Net, the shoreline docent group associated with the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. He is not the first elephant seal to arrive on the beach this winter, but he is certainly the oldest and the most massive.
Over the last two months, Bay Net volunteers have sighted as many as seven small, young elephant seals on the West Beach. But Bay Net docent Thom Akeman estimates the newcomer is over 10 feet long and weighs about 2,000 pounds. From the prominence of his large, floppy nose, Akeman guesses he’s probably about four years old.
“He rose up and sounded only once while we were there,” Akeman says. “Clearly the rumbling sounds of a mature male.”
So what’s a gigantic elephant seal doing on the beach at Hopkins? In all likelihood, looking for a mate.
Elephant seals spend 8-10 months in the open ocean every year. But in December, the males haul out at rookeries along the California Coast. They immediately begin to rear up and produce loud, trumpeting roars; these dominance displays sometimes turn into nasty fights between males. A few weeks later the females arrive, and mating ensues.
The two big rookeries in California—Piedras Blancas and Año Nuevo—see most of the elephant-seal action, but a few individuals have been sighted on the West Beach every year since 2004. And this one is certainly worth a look.