Northern Elephant Seals: A Success Story

The U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service has published an article that discusses the population rebound of Northern elephant seals, and that provides guidelines for safely observing them. Part of NMFS’ article follows:

“Northern elephant seals were once thought to be extinct following decades of intense hunting beginning in the 1700’s. Fortunately, in the early 20th century, a scientific expedition from the California Academy of Sciences discovered a colony of approximately 30 northern elephant seals on the Isla de Guadalupe off Mexico.

This remnant population became the focus of international conservation efforts, and the animals successfully rebounded to over 200,000 along the coast from Central California to Baja Mexico. Two of the major elephant seal rookeries can be found about 50 miles south of San Francisco at Año Nuevo and at Piedras Blancas, near San Simeon. The population of elephant seals at Piedras Blancas has recently surpassed the population at Año Nuevo with an estimated population of over 23,000 animals present during January and February each year.

As the number of elephant seals has increased, so has the potential for humans to interact, whether intentionally or unintentionally, with these animals. Despite their sometimes docile and clumsy appearance, elephant seals can be extremely quick and sometimes vicious if humans, or their pets, get too close.”
“It is important for the public to always observe these animals from a safe distance and follow the viewing guidelines below. In addition, all marine mammals, like elephant seals, are protected under federal law and anyone harassing [i] these animals may be subject to prosecution under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. To safely view elephant seals, follow these guidelines:

• Watch quietly from a safe distance of at least 100 feet – remember wild animals are unpredictable.
• Use binoculars and spotting scopes if you want a close look at the seals.
• If a seal becomes alert (looks towards you) or agitated and begins to move away, you are too close.
• Dogs and seals don’t mix. Dogs should be on a leash no longer than 6 feet.
• Observe beach closures and restrictions.”

Click here to for NMFS’ article on Northern elephant seals.

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