Elephant seals frolic at state reserve

Guided walks
to see the elephant seals at Ao Nuevo State Reserve began on
Dec. 15 and continue every day through March 31, 2009.  The Reserve is west of Highway
1, between the cities of Santa Cruz and
Half Moon Bay,
approximately 1 hour drive south from San Francisco.

 

Reservations are recommended for these popular guided walks. Public Seal Walks are offered daily for families, individuals, or
groups.

 

Reservations can be made through Reserve America, at 1-800-444-4445,  through April 30, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Pacific Time, weekdays and
on weekends 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.


Public Seal Walk reservations will be
accepted up to 56 days in advance, or as late as 1
day, prior to the reservation date. Public Seal Walk reservations can also
be made online at the Ao Nuevo link at
www.parks.ca.gov.

 

      The
first guided walk of every day will begin at 9 a.m. and the
last walk in mid-afternoon. These popular three-mile walks over rolling sand
dunes and sloping terrain last about two and one- half hours and are considered
moderately strenuous. Each walk will begin on time; visitors who are late will
forfeit their reservations.


Guided Walks are conducted rain or shine. Visitors should prepare for an
outdoor hiking adventure that may include high winds, heavy rains, and cold
temperatures.

Recommended clothing includes hooded rain gear, layered clothing,
and sturdy walking shoes. For safety reasons, use of umbrellas and baby
strollers are not permitted on the walks.


Food and beverages are not sold at the
Reserve, but picnic tables are available for use before or after guided walks.
It is advisable to bring bottled drinking water on the tour. Youth groups
require adult chaperones. One chaperone is required for every 10 youths 17 years
or under.

 

Disabled persons may make reservations for special Equal Access Guided
Walks. Equal Access walks are available January 3 through March 29, on weekends
only. Reservations are required. Tickets cost $7.00 per person.  Reservations may be made, by phoning
(650) 879-2033 beginning December 1, on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays between
1:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m.

 

      Ao
Nuevo State Reserve is home to a large colony of Northern Elephant Seals, and
the interpretive program has attracted increasing interest every winter for over
30 years. People who hope to see the seals during the winter breeding season are
urged to get their reservations early.

 

      The
Elephant Seal viewing area portion of the Reserve will be closed except for
official guided walks through March 31. Similar closures and guided
walk programs since 1975 have allowed a natural development of the elephant seal
herd. The mainland herd has increased during that time from only 35 males to
more than 5400 animals, including more than 1700 pups born.

 

Adult seals begin arriving on the beaches by mid-December. Bulls weighing
up to 5000 pounds engage in battles for breeding access to the females.


Pregnant
females come ashore to have pups beginning in mid-December, with births reaching
a peak by late January. Mothers nurse their pups for about a month before
weaning their pup, mating, and departing back to sea.


Birthing and mating
activity peak by mid February and by early March most adult seals have returned
to the sea. During March, hundreds of weaned pups remain behind to rest in the
dunes and learn to swim in the tide pools.

 

     
State Park volunteer naturalists from the surrounding community take an
intensive 2 1/2 months (65 hour) training course given by California State
Parks, prior to the breeding season. During the guided walks, they and Reserve
staff will lead visitors among the huge marine mammals and explain both the
story of the elephant seals and the other natural and cultural history of the
area.

 

For more information on the elephant seal, the guided walk program and
other features of the Reserve, phone the Reserve at (650) 879-2025, or (650)
879-0227 for recorded information. Visit the Reserve’s web site at www.parks.ca.gov.

 

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