Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Elephant seals

with 30 comments


A couple of posts back you caught a tiny glimpse of seals on the rocks at Point Lobos, California, on November 3. Late the next afternoon, having worked our way down scenic Highway 1, we pulled in at the parking area overlooking the Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery near San Simeon. It was a popular place, both for the elephant seals (Mirounga angustirostris) on the beach and the onlookers lining the fence to watch them. Note that while most of the seals were drowsily minding their own business, two of them were going at it nose to nose.

© 2016 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 28, 2016 at 4:56 AM

30 Responses

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  1. We were there a few years ago. I loved these guys.


    November 28, 2016 at 6:51 AM

    • Glad to hear you visited the place too. We arrived so late in the afternoon that there was no longer much light on the seals, as the photograph’s absence of shadows confirms.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 28, 2016 at 7:01 AM

  2. The rebound of these and also sea lions has been amazing. I remember when it was quite rare to see them.


    November 28, 2016 at 9:37 AM

    • Conservation programs have had some success, and I think there’s a greater consciousness of endangered species among the general public than there used to be.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 28, 2016 at 11:30 AM

      • Do you? That is encouraging. Sometimes I feel I’m too close to the subject to have a realistic idea of where people in general are in their thinking.


        November 29, 2016 at 9:00 AM

        • At the same time, there are still plenty of people who don’t care, and I can confirm litter in many of the places I go in central Texas.

          Steve Schwartzman

          November 29, 2016 at 9:32 AM

          • Me too. It baffles me that people would carry litter as far out on a trail as they do and then dump it. Side of the road I can understand from certain kinds of people, but that far into nature? sigh.


            December 1, 2016 at 9:06 AM

        • There’s also the eternal problem of the many people who let their pets run loose to tear up places and kill native animals. At the John Muir National Historic Site I watched as a couple turned three large dogs loose in the preserve and the dogs immediately dashed off down the trail. I made such a fuss about it that the people put their dogs back on leashes and left. Of course they probably returned the next day.

          Steve Schwartzman

          November 29, 2016 at 9:36 AM

          • I always make a fuss too but these days someone might well pull out a gun and shoot me!


            December 1, 2016 at 9:05 AM

            • Eve worries about that sort of thing when I speak up.

              Just yesterday I sent an e-mail to the director of the Muir site reporting my experience. What’s ironic is that the incident took place not more than a minute after I’d read a sign there saying that if people kept bringing off-leash pets the rules might get changed to forbid pets altogether.

              Steve Schwartzman

              December 1, 2016 at 9:16 AM

  3. These are really fascinating. It’s fortunate that you were able to see one that was large enough to have the snout that gave them their common name. It’s probably a very good thing that their preferred area is fenced off, as I understand they can be quite defensive of their territory.


    November 28, 2016 at 10:32 AM

    • I understand the need to protect the seals by fencing off that section of beach to keep people out. At the same time, the fencing kept me from getting in a better position to take pictures (I would have risked getting closer). Today’s image is more informative than artistic.

      The general lack of an elephantine snout in this group made me initially unsure what type of seals I was seeing. By searching online I eventually turned up a photograph from which I recognized the viewing area where we’d stopped.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 28, 2016 at 11:35 AM

  4. We saw these in the February that we drove down the coast. There were some huge seals on the beach then and lots of youngsters. I’m glad to say it wasn’t as smelly as the Cape Fur Seals rookery I visited in Namibia – almost lost my breakfast then.


    November 28, 2016 at 12:52 PM

    • Sounds like your sighting was better than mine, presumably because is was in a different season.

      You’ve reminded me that when we visited the colony of gannets in Muriwai, New Zealand, last year, there was a stench that we could smell even before we saw the colony. We often turn birds into ethereal symbols, but that eliminates real-world elimination.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 28, 2016 at 12:58 PM

  5. Great and artistic shot! Bye. K

    Kamila Pala

    November 28, 2016 at 12:53 PM

    • I’m glad you like it. I’d have done more for art if I’d been able to get closer and move around the way I’m used to doing.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 28, 2016 at 12:59 PM

  6. The photo captures a relaxed moment, which warms my heart. If only all species were so ‘unguarded’ and had no reason to fear man…

    Playamart - Zeebra Designs

    November 28, 2016 at 4:55 PM

    • Except for the nose-to-nose duo, these elephant seals were indeed relaxed. Regarding the species, Wikipedia notes: “They were thought to be extinct in 1884 until a remnant population of eight individuals was discovered on Guadalupe Island in 1892 by a Smithsonian expedition, who promptly killed seven of the eight for their collections. The elephant seals managed to survive, and were finally protected by the Mexican government in 1922. Since the early 20th century, they have been protected by law in both Mexico and in the United States. Subsequently, the U.S. protection was strengthened after passage of the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972, and numbers have now recovered to over 100,000.”

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 28, 2016 at 8:18 PM

      • amazing! we can hope that other declining species can make equally-heartwarming comebacks!

        Playamart - Zeebra Designs

        November 28, 2016 at 9:31 PM

        • We watched a program about New Zealand last night. One bird species had been reduced to seven individuals but conservationists undertook a program to save them and now there are several dozen.

          Steve Schwartzman

          November 28, 2016 at 9:50 PM

  7. I’m a risk taker too… as long as it’s legal! Ha ha! This is a great shot – I love the swirls in the sand and the “beached out” positions of the seals. They’re so interesting to watch. I spent an entire day observing them in the water some years ago. Beautiful creatures.


    November 28, 2016 at 8:28 PM

    • Now that’s dedication: a whole day observing seals. I’d have willingly taken the risk of getting closer to these for the sake of better portraits, but it wasn’t allowed and I wasn’t about to hop the fence. Not much daylight remained, so I was glad to get a picture at all.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 28, 2016 at 9:26 PM

  8. I’ll bet that was quite a sight to see!!!


    November 29, 2016 at 7:31 AM

  9. We were there in July and it was molting season. Lots of seals relaxing but some not so pretty and sleek.

    Kathy Galloway

    November 29, 2016 at 8:04 AM

  10. I like the monochromatic effect. The dimness gives both seals and sand a bit of a velvety texture that’s really pleasing: it’s as though the animals and their environment were cut from the same cloth, but formed a little differently.


    November 30, 2016 at 8:10 AM

    • Speaking of velvet, your “cut from the same cloth” is a good play on words.

      I, too, like the (almost) monochrome here. While the late time of day dictated that, the colors earlier in the afternoon wouldn’t have been much different, just brighter. The late light also eliminated the harsh shadows.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 30, 2016 at 8:32 AM

  11. […] an hour of leaving the Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery in San Simeon on November 3, we arrived at our Morro Bay hotel. It was close to the coast, so when […]

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