Getting Way Too Close To Mating Elephant Seals
IT’S THAT TIME OF YEAR. Elephant seals are gathering at the small cove at the Point Reyes National Seashore to do it, well, like they do on the Discovery channel. For the next few months, the 200-yard stretch of beach near Chimney Rock, two miles south of the Drakes Beach parking lot, 90 minutes north of San Francisco, will be littered with female seals in heat.
With them, will come photogenic black pups and mottled bull seals head-butting over territory, vying for a spot to put their hunter orange disco-sticks to work.
To catch the action up-close on film, park in the pull-off near the facts plaque overlooking Chimney Rock. You will have to hop the wooden fence and billy-goat your way down a formidable cliff-side. The cliff’s pitch is about 80 degrees but the thorny brush is the real danger. This is not flip-flop territory.
The animals won’t become aggressive as long as you respect their space — a task that gets tricky as the beach fills up at season’s peak. Try to maintain a few yards between yourself and the bull seals. You can get much closer to the females and pups but no closer than a yard because females will lunge and bite.
Bull elephant seals can be much more vicious. They grow to 16 feet, weigh 6,600 pounds and move freakishly fast over land in a motion similar to “the worm” dance you and I do at the clubs. These glass-egos will flip if they sense encroachment. They will also attack in groups of two or three side-by-side, forming giant, barking seal-walls of fat and teeth.
(Last December, I discovered the worm is the bio-link between humans and elephant seals. By performing enthusiastic vertical and horizontal versions of the dance, I enticed several desirable female seals — those with symmetrical faces — to flop toward me on the beach. Predictably, the dominant bull seal haters became enraged. It should be noted that female interest increased in direct proportion to the speed and enthusiasm of my worm. Beat-boxing had no effect.)
Avoid death during a bull seal attack by running back up the cliff-side. They can’t climb, so maneuver your way onto a ledge and rain down stones and insults. Don’t let them force you into the water, even the shallows. You’ll freeze while they gain ferocious eel-like agility.
All photos by Daniel C. Britt.