Part 37: Elephant seals and amazing scenery
Charlize and I stopped at yet another vista, this one full of cars, trucks, campers, RVs and a lot of folks. The signs for the place identified it as Elephant Seal Beach and the attraction was a lot of Elephant seals sunning themselves on the sand and a few frolicking in the water just off shore.
They aren’t dead but are mostly motionless. Every now and then one of them digs up some sand with a flipper and flings the grains up into the breeze, covering its body with a thin crust. I have no idea what that accomplishes, maybe the action distracts some biting flies or other pests. I’m certain they wouldn’t do it unless it accomplished something, and all of them seem to participate from time to time.
The water was an unbelievable blue and, despite all the people, it was another amazing experience to add to my journal. Many of the folks stopped to chat and pet Charlize. I never cease to be surprised about how easy it is to open a conversation with strangers using her as the “ice-breaker”.
These seals are the Northern Elephant Seal, sea mammals that spend from eight to ten months per year out in the open sea. While out and about, so to speak, they are able to dive from a thousand to as much as five thousand feet down searching for a meal. That is an amazing statistic, as any scuba diver will tell you. Each sixty-three feet below the surface of the water is equal to one atmosphere of pressure. That means they can withstand almost 80 atmospheres of pressure, enough to crush almost anything made by man and they can stay down for as long as two hours.
Only about one out of six of the seals manage to survive to adulthood. The pups, especially, are vulnerable to a variety of predators, including man. They were hunted almost to extinction, their oil being second in quality to only that of the sperm whale. By the early 1970’s there were only about a hundred of these animals breeding on Guadalupe Island off Baja. Before the U.S. government did anything the small colony was protected by the Mexican government. Our then functional government finally managed to pass the Marine Mammal Protection Act in 1972. By 1999 the total population of these amazing creatures was estimated to be about 150,000 with the Piedras Blancas rookery home to about 18,000. Every now and again we do manage to do something right.
Heading north again we went past Tomales Bay State Park and any number of small towns with somehow familiar names; Cypress Grove, Ocean Roar, Valley Ford, Bodega Bay (something out of a Steinbeck book?), Jenner, then an extremely winding road and passing the Salt Point State Park campground where we spent a night in Frog on our first trip. Eventually we made it to Gualala and checked into the Whale Watch Inn, a charming place with a charming hostess, a great view of the water from my room and Charlize was welcomed and allowed to stay in the room with me. We both prefer that!
After his losing his wife of 52 years to cancer, Dr. David Gross has embarked on an extended road trip with his new dog, Charlize, and is writing about his experiences.