Saturday, October 3, 2009

Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Colony

Just a few miles north of San Simeon, California, islands of black basalt stained white from bird guano rise from the Pacific. Named Piedras Blancas or White Rocks by Spanish mariners, these rocks have long hosted large colonies of cormorants and other seabirds. But what most visitors come to Piedras Blancas to see are the thousands of elephant seals that rest and breed on the sandy beaches.

As I arrived at a lookout, a woman sneeringly commented on how damnably lazy the seals were. What she didn't know is that elephant seals have one of the most extreme lifestyles known and bloody well deserve their rest.

Fitting seals with satellite radio transponders, researchers tracked female elephant seals for three months. The seals spent much of their time at depths of up to 7000 feet, surfacing for only fifteen seconds a dive. And they dove continuously, both night and day, for the entire three month period.