The Elephant Seals at Aņo Nuevo

East Africa has its Serengeti with teeming herds of wildebeeste. California has its Point Aņo Nuevo with its teeming herds of Elephant Seals.

The bulls range from 14ft to 16ft long and weigh in between 2 and 2 1/2 tons. The females are slightly smaller at 10ft to 12 ft long and "only" 1500 lbs to 2000 lbs.

February (when these pictures were taken) is the height of the mating season, with each bull guarding his harem from competing males.


We set out from The Bay Area and head west over the coastal range, aiming to hit the coast just a little north of our planned destination.
The landmark we're looking for is the Pigeon Point Lighthouse, seen here in the distance. Once we have it in view, we turn left
to look for Point Aņo Nuevo just a few miles south.


We are setting out on a mission to photograph Elephant Seals from the air. The photographs will be used to perform a population count
of these animals so that biologists can evaluate the well-being of the herd and the level of success in building back the population.

(This picture was not taken during this flight, but on another occasion - courtesy of Wendy Couperus)


We follow the coast south until Point Aņo Nuevo comes into sight


A closer look - if you look carefully in this photograph, you can see hundreds of dots along the beach going out to the Point
as well as at the Point itself.


Some hundreds of yards off the point is a rocky island.

On this island are two buildings - one facing the ocean, and another near the further end of the island opposite a rocky promontory that is
facing towards the mainland shore .


Here's a wider view showing the island just offshore with Aņo Nuevo on the mainland, and behind that some rich farmland.


A closer view of the island, with the two main buildings clearly visible now. The closer one is opposite the rocky promontory
on which we can see a herd of Elephant Seals sunning themselves. The other building is behind and faces out toward the Pacific Ocean.


Circling round, we cross over the mainland where we notice he males arranged along the beach guarding their harems who are a short way inland.


A slightly closer look at the island


We've circled round a bit to see it from a different angle - a closer look at the seals on the promontory.

The building seems to be a little the worse for wear - it could do with a lick of paint before the sea air recycles the wood back to nature.


The building on the other side of the island seems to be better maintained and more solidly built - as well as being protected by a sea-wall,
although not much help if there's ever a tsunami.

There are relatively few seals here (you can see them on the rocky section bottom left of the picture)
Apparently they prefer the protected lee-side of the island or else the mainland shore itself..


Now we turn our attention to the mainland. Here is the main Point we saw earlier jutting out into the sea - well populated with further
herds of Elephant Seals. (Not only on the white sandy beach but also further inland in the dunes). If you look carefully you'll notice
that the big guys seem to be lining the water's edge to protect their inland harems from any competing males who might come out of the sea.


Seen from the air it is hard to appreciate how big they are. Each animal weighs between 1 and 2 tons or even a little bit more.


The same view from directly above. From this angle, and looking at the top right sector of the beach, it is even more apparent how the bulls
are evenly spaced along the water-front, each guarding their territory from invaders.

Or maybe these are the invaders waiting for a target of opportunity?


Finaly we head home with a last look at Pigeon Point before we turn right to go over the coastal range again.