During the December-January US government shutdown, over fifty female Northern Elephant Seals decided to turn Drakes Beach at Point Reyes National Seashore into a nursery. With most National Park employees on furlough, the seals settled in with no hassles and at this point cannot be chased off.
While I often saw Sea Lions when I lived in California, I did not become acquainted with Elephant Seals, though I hiked at Point Reyes regularly. There are numerous nursing colonies on isolated beaches from Oregon to the Baja region in Mexico. Elephant Seal populations are unknown since they live in poorly accessible regions even while breeding.
True to their name, these mamas are huge, weighing over a thousand pounds. Males are much larger. They roar like an elephant and have a funny nose. When not breeding, Elephant Seals live in eastern Pacific waters as far north as the Aleutian Islands. They eat fish, sharks, and squid.
Colonies will take off again around April, after pups have weaned and mothers have mated. They tend to return to the same breeding grounds year after year, so it is unclear whether Drakes Beach will be ever be open year-round again. The Park Service has established a viewing area for the public on weekends so as not to disturb the seals or place humans in danger.
The message the Elephant Seals have brought through their Occupy Point Reyes escapade is that despite stunts over government “shutdowns” that Congress and now our President have pulled, Mother Nature is in charge of this land. We can go on strike if we want, but she keeps going about her business.
Associated Press, Elephant Seals Take Over California Beach During Shutdown.
US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA): Species Directory, Northern Elephant Seal.