Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Car Schooling

My 14yo and I spent the last 4 days together in northern California. We went up there for a robotics tournament in San Jose, but one of the unexpected pleasures of the trip was simply driving past all the happy California cows. It looks like Ireland or New Zealand, but the green hills are in California after a winter of El Nino rains.

We spent a day at the Monterey Aquarium, both in the exhibit halls and behind the scenes on a tour. We were delighted earlier in the day, though, to spot an otter or two out in the ocean just off the bluffs. This guy kept bobbing on his back, disappearing to get more food, then popping back up on his back and eating. Another happy, laid back California critter

The most interesting part of our trip was the naturalist led tour around the elephant seals of Ano Nuevo State Beach. Talk about your laid back creatures. They are slugs from the time they are born!

The above group are a bunch of pups called "weaners" because they have been weaned. Their mothers nurse them for about 4 weeks then take off. The little weaners hang out for another 2 months then get hungry enough to head out to the ocean and start feeding. Nobody protects them from predators or clumsy 1 ton bulls who sometimes flatten them. No one teaches them to hunt or swim -- they just hang out. The wild El Nino storms swept about a third of them away last month.

But aren't they cute?!!

The bulls definitely get a little weird looking, like some sci-fi creature from another planet, and they are only capable of galumphing along on the beach for a short stretch before they collapse for a rest. This one wanted to join our little tour group!

Elephant Seals were thought to be extinct back in the late 1800s as they had been killed for their blubbler. It was much easier to hunt the slug like seals on the beach than the big whales in the open ocean. A small group somehow survived and started reproducing and today a couple thousand return to Ano Nuevo beach each winter to give birth and mate, and again in the spring to molt. There are new colonies also forming on beaches further south along the California coast.

But the Elephant Seals seem unimpressed with their history and small gene pool.
The bulls in particular seem eager to loudly proclaim their awesomeness to the world!!

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