Sunday, February 11, 2007

Watching for whales. Seeing seals.

We were supposed to have had a three day weekend at home to recover from our holiday travel before Cameron headed back to work. But the airport closing meant we spent two of those days in Dallas. We were left with only New Year's Day to rest in California. Then, Cam was back in the office that Tuesday and Wednesday and back in Texas to meet the folks at Dell that Thursday and Friday.

Sam and I had the first week of the New Year off. On Thursday, I spoke with my mom. She told me she'd seen on the news that people in Oregon were watching whales migrating. I told her the whales were supposed to be passing by here too. She encouraged me to go out and look for them.

Later that morning, I spoke with Ariel. She was back from her holiday trip to visit the Nortons in Utah. Ash had made it to California and they thought going whale watching sounded like a good idea. Our car was parked at the airport. So, they came and picked us up. Then, we drove up Hwy 1 to the Muir Beach Overlook. I'd read that it was a good place to watch for whales and had almost gone there on a different day.

This day was beautiful, from the shelter of the car. However, we didn't realize how windy it would be on the overlook.

When we got out of the car, the first thing we saw was a guy chasing after the hat the wind had blown off his head. The wind hit us hard and made just standing difficult.

The sun shone so brightly on the water that it was nearly blinding. Despite these circumstances, we took turns looking out at the water through the binoculars Ruud has given us when we saw him in Lafayette. We enjoyed the view but not the wind. Our first attempt at whale watching lasted only about 30 minutes. Alas, we did not see whales.

We decided to go down to Muir Beach and hang out there for awhile. The wind was less intense on the beach. It was nice relaxing together.

That weekend, after Amy's visit, Cam, Sam and I decided to head out to Pt. Reyes to attempt seeing whales another time. Cam had read that elephant seals were also migrating and that Pt. Reyes was an ideal place to view them during this time.

We parked at Drake's Bay and took a ride through the beautiful park out to Chimney Rock on the tip of Pt. Reyes.

The first trip Cam and I made to the ocean after arriving in California, was to Chimney Rock. We loved it then and were excited to go back.

Cam's talked before about the cows that live on Pt. Reyes appearing to be the happiest cows around. This baby calf, wobbling in front of its mother, was so young that it was still wet.

When we arrived at Elephant Seal Overlook, we were pleased to see that volunteer docents had set up high powered telescopes to aide our viewing.

The cove was covered with seals.

Do you see the seal pups next to their mothers? (click photo to enlarge)

There are two in this photo and a different pair in the photo below.

The docents told us that the weekend before there had been 3 babies born in this spot. This weekend, there were 18.

The males are so massively impressive and bizarre looking.

Because we were the first visitors to the cove that day, we could look as long as we wanted through the telescopes.
And we had unlimited access to the docent's wisdom.

They told us that the elephant seal parents only stay with their babies for 28 days.

Because their feeding grounds are far away, the parents don’t eat or teach the pups to find food during this time. The pups have been fed solely from their mother's milk.

After the babies are left alone on the shore, hunger and their instincts eventually motivate them to leave in search of food. Out in the open ocean; however, we learned that great white sharks have timed their migration to coincide with the baby seals' first foray into the sea. No wonder the seal pups only have a 20% chance of survival.

While the pups looked tiny from where we were standing, we learned that at birth, they are already larger than Sam. During their first month of life they grow to be larger than Cam.

Thrilled with our educational elephant seal experience, we decided to hike up onto the bluff to see if we could see any whales.

We spent time snuggling.

And had a picnic in one of the most gorgeous spots I can imagine.

We enjoyed catching up with Cam. He had been traveling so much with his new job.

Sam had fun running around...

and seeing the scenes.

But we didn't see whales this time either.

We did find another family of elephant seals.

I love the smile on this guy.

We walked back down to catch the bus back to our car.

And to rest and relax on our way home.

Cam wrote about our trip too.

We have a good life.

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