On Tuesday, myself and one of Sarah’s volunteers did a seal count from the Ken Patrick Visitor Center down to the permanent closure. The permanent closure is the closure which if visible from the Elephant Seal Overlook. It was a beautifully cold day with a bit of wind and calm seas. As we rounded the point, I was struck by how much sand has been washed away. This is evidence of the stormy winter that we’ve seen.

When we count seals, we separate animals into the following categories: bulls, sub-adult 4 males (SA4’s), SA3’s, SA2′, SA other (this means we can’t classify the animal because of its position on the beach), cows, pups, dead pups and weaners. If you are interested in learning more about how to classify male seals, ask me next time you are in the park and we’ll do so with some of the animals around KPVC. These counts are done once or twice each week and provide for a great time series of data so that we can see how the seal counts are changing year over year and by location. While we are counting, when we see an animal with a tag on its flipper, we will read the tag and record this information. This information provides a small window into age and changes in location over time. For example, last year one of the alpha males had a tag, Sarah was able to determine that this animal was a ten year old that was born at Ano Nuevo.

As we were walking back toward the visitor center, we were able to witness a long and bloody battle. These animals fought for about 8 minutes before one was able to claim victory and the other drug himself into the waves. I couldn’t help but think that the cool saltwater must have felt good on his wounds. Saltwater cures all that ails. The above picture was taken of the “winner” as he rested.

We’ve reached the point in the season where females are starting to leave so alpha males will be actively defending their positions and their harems. These battles are awesome to watch, but they may also pose a hazard for visitors. Here are some things to remember if you see this behavior at KPVC:

  • Be aware – be sure that you are aware of the position of the animals AND the position of the visitors. Maintain that awareness, please don’t let the drama/excitement of the fight draw you in so much so that you forget that you are there to help to keep visitors safe.
  • Anticipate where the animal(s) might go – there is a winner and a loser of every fight. As the loser becomes aware that he will not win the fight, he will be looking for an escape route. His escape may be toward the water OR it may be through the fence and into the parking. These things happen quickly so it is best if you think about what may happen before it starts to happen.
  • Act quickly to move visitors to safety – if you see an animal moving in the direction of visitors, immediately act to move the visitors away from that location. Don’t be shy to take charge. If you see animals moving toward each other to fight let other docents know so that everybody is aware and thinking about visitor safety.
  • Where to move visitors – any direction that is safe and any distance that is safe. These animals can come right through the fence bordering the ice plant so don’t assume that this is a protective barrier. Please do be aware of traffic in the parking lot, obviously we don’t want to move visitors out of the way of a 5,000 pound seal and into the path of a 5,000 pound car. 🙂