Getting way too close to mating elephant seals [PICS]
Daniel C. Britt captures the action in this step-by-step photo sequence.
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.
Avoid death during a bull seal attack by running back up the cliffside. They can’t climb. So get on a ledge and rain down stones and insults.
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.
Don't Hate, Congratulate
A bull elephant seal grins for the camera with female seals lined up behind him on the rocky beach near Chimney Rock at the Point Reyes National Seashore. Elephant seals begin their mating frenzy on the coast of Northern California in late December. This guy appears to be off to a strong start. All photos by Daniel C. Britt.
Female seals perk up as I begin my upright version of the worm on the beach near Chimney Rock at the Point Reyes National Seashore. Bull seals typically divide females into harems, mating with one while the others watch ... unless, of course, the harem becomes distracted by an outsider's enticing club moves. Britt.
The beauty of my dance caused this female seal to shed tears. Unfortunately, her infatuation caused her to neglect a needy pup. Britt.
Enraged by my interactions with his women, Chango rises from the sea. Britt.
Scent of Love
Chango sniffs the air, searching for the scent of a ready female. Female seals' reproductive organs lie between their rear flippers. Britt.
Chango quickly mounts the female he has sniffed out. Britt.
It's All in the Trunk
As he makes growling seal-love to her, Chango pins the female's head to the beach with his trunk using it to wipe her eyes at the same time. That's true love. The pup in the foreground pretends nothing is happening. Britt.
From this angle, Chango and his mate-of-the-moment look like a relatively happy couple. It also looks like he is squishing snot out of her nose. What a freak. Britt.
Chango misses a stroke, exposing his orange seal penis mid-shag. His eyes tell me he blames the camera for his loss of control. Truth is buddy, there's no keeping cool with a lady like that. Britt.
Talk to Me
Chango slows it down, grips her by the waist with his forward flipper and snorts softly into her ear canals. Britt.
Behind them, Pacific waves crash hard on Chimney Rock. Britt.
In what appears to be an elephant seal "we-gasm" after 30 minutes of constant thrusting, Chango slumps off of his mate as she juts upright, screaming bloody murder. At this time next year, this female will return to the cove to give birth to an elephant seal pup and possibly mate again. Britt.
Hop, Skip, and a Climb
Hopping the fence to join the elephant seals' sex party is the easy part. Britt.
Long Way Down
Getting up and down the cliffside with camera gear is much trickier. Closed-toe shoes and jeans are a must to deal with the terrain. Britt.
Nature isn't always sexy. A deformed elephant seal pup suffers on the beach near Chimney Rock at the Point Reyes National Seashore. Noticing its physical defects, the adult elephant seals have left this pup alone to die at the edge of the beach, on the sand marked by the high tide. Britt.
Apparently not all seals are willing to abandon their young. This bull seal would not leave the decomposed body of a pup. Britt.
This baby seal isn't dying; it's just sleeping on its back, quite unusual in this group. When it wakes, it will practice the didjeridoo and found a charter seal school. Britt.
A female elephant seal lunges at me for getting too close. Britt.
A post-coitus Chango rolls around in the sand smiling. Britt.
A bull elephant seal bellows into the air showing sharp teeth. Britt.
A female seal cranes her head up at me, wondering why I am sitting on her back asking for a ride across the sea. Britt.
An elephant seal pup draws milk from a female at the cove near Chimney Rock at the Point Reyes National Seashore. Britt.
A female seal ready to mate beckons me closer. Cheeky tart. Britt.