Showing posts with label northern elephant seal. Show all posts
Showing posts with label northern elephant seal. Show all posts

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Elephant seal for the new year, Año Nuevo State Reserve

Photograph of a bull elephant seal under an overcast sunset at Año Nuevo State Reserve

For my first post of the new year, I thought I'd dig into the archives to celebrate one of my favorite January traditions while living in California -- the northern elephant seals at Año Nuevo State Reserve. There's nothing quite like seeing these beasts hauled out on the beach, and I definitely miss being an easy car ride away from the spectacle. These two frames are of the beachmaster of loser's beach in January 2011. After successfully charging a rival seal back into the water he reared back and roared before settling back into the sand.

Photograph of an elephant seal resting on the beach at Año Nuevo State Reserve

View more photographs of elephant seals at Año Nuevo State Reserve


Friday, January 27, 2012

Elephant seal keeping watch, Año Nuevo State Reserve

A bull elephant seal bends backward

The elephant seals of Año Nuevo State Reserve are pretty used to seeing humans in the park, and they are relatively relaxed around us as long as we keep our distance. However, they still like to keep tabs on everyone entering their stretch of beach, and if someone gets too close they get nervous. In this shot, a bull elephant seal has his big round eyes trained on a new group of people that was walking by. Since they kept their distance, he would soon go back to laying down and enjoying the sunset.

View more photos of these impressive animals in my Elephant Seals Gallery.


Monday, January 9, 2012

Bellowing northern elephant seal, Año Nuevo State Reserve

Elephant seal beachmaster at Año Nuevo State Reserve

One of the things that I miss most about not being in California for the start of a new year is that I can't take my annual day trip to see the northern elephant seals at Año Nuevo State Reserve. This became a tradition for my wife and me after we took a trip there during our second year in California, and it's just such an amazing place. Throughout my childhood I had been amazed by elephant seals in nature documentaries, and it's so cool to actually walk among them -- and not too many people realize that the largest mainland breeding colony of northern elephant seals in the U.S. is an hour and 15 minutes south of San Francisco. So if you live anywhere in Northern California, and haven't reserved tickets for your Seal Walk at Año Nuevo State Reserve yet, I highly recommend that you do so! To get you started, here's a link to the park's website.

A bull elephant seal bellowing

These two shots are of a large bull northern elephant seal that we watched defending his beach in January of 2011. Just a few minutes prior to these images, we saw a rival seal storm the beach and get chased off by this one. While I snapped stills of the event, my wife caught the encounter on video and you can see it on this blog post from last year. Shooting these beasts was so much fun, and I can't wait until I have another chance to do so. If you've made it to the park sometime this year, please drop me a comment with a link to your photos -- I'd love to see them.

View more of my images of these impressive animals in my Elephant Seal Gallery.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Elephant seal display at sunset, Año Nuevo State Reserve

Bull elephant seal displaying at sunset - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

Two images of this male northern elephant seal displaying on the beach at Año Nuevo State Reserve. Not only did we find this lively seal to photograph, but we were also treated to a beautiful California sunset on this early January day as well.

Bull northern elephant seal - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

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View more of these powerful animals in my elephant seals gallery.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Out of the breakers, Año Nuevo State Reserve

Elephant seal storming the beach - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

A male northern elephant seal coming out of the waves on onto the beach at Año Nuevo State Reserve. This guy took a slow and calculated approach to the beach, as he sized up the resident bull he was going to challenge. I included a video of their encounter on my post for yesterday, so check it out if you haven't already.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Elephant seal standoff -- with video! Año Nuevo State Reserve

One of the coolest wildlife encounters we've had occured last weekend with the northern elephant seals at Año Nuevo State Reserve. After a drizzly afternoon spent watching the seals on the beach, we had decided to just sit and relax and watch the ocean for a while. Just as we were considering heading home, since it looked like we were going to get fogged out of a sunset, we noticed that a male elephant seal was in the water along the shore. We watched his progress, and it looked like he was going to attempt to haul out on the same stretch of beach where a large bull was already situated. It's been a dream of mine to photograph an elephant seal battle, so we quickly moved into position to watch the action. The encounter was fantastic, but unforutnately there was no fight. Once the two males squared up, the challenger decided it wasn't worth fighting, and made a hasty retreat back to the water.

I have a series of images with some descriptions from the encounter below, and then at the bottom of this post is the video that my wonderful wife took of the event. You definitely should watch the video, its really awesome to see them in action!

The start of it all - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

The above image is of the dominant seal as he displayed his might to the newcomer that just came out of the waves. Up to this point, this bull had been pretty quiet all day -- occasionally displaying and making his gurgling sound, but not really interested in moving around all that much. But when he saw the challenger come out of the water, he became much more animated and quickly turned to face the water and pulled up in this fighting posture. Then he took off down the beach, charging at the challenger.

Dominant elephant seal at high speed - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

It was really amazing how quickly they moved. When you see these giant slug-like creatures on the beach, you wonder how they could possible move as fast as the rangers tell you. The rule is to stay 25 feet away from the seals at all times in the reserve, and the docents tell you that's because a seal can run faster than you for the first 12.5 feet. I'm sure there's a bit of hyperbole in there, but after witnessing this, it doesn't seem too far fetched.

Aggressive display by the beachmaster - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

The dominant bull pulled up in the middle of his sprint (after closign about half of the distance to the challenger) and he again took up an aggressive posture. This is the battle position, where they stand up tall and are ready to swing their necks at each other and bite and tear with those large front teeth. This kind of fighting is how they form those very large chest-shields of scar tissue that you see on the males.

Elephant seal moving fast - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

After this mid-sprint display, he again took off and continued charging. One interesting thing that showed up in the still images that we didn't notice in person, is how they really push their entire weight up on their "fingertips." It looks like they are actually doing a pushup with those front flippers, which is pretty amazing since the largest bulls can weight up to 5000 pounds!

Northern elephant seal standoff - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

This shot is when the two met in the middle. In fact, the challenger did not approach at all during the charge, he just waited for the beachmaster to come to him. They got this close (just far enough away that they couldn't bite) and each bull exhaled a breath of hot air that you can see in the image as they sized each other up. Then, after just a short moment like this, the challenger turned on his tail and ran for the ocean. Their battles are notoriously viscious, and it's no wonder that he didn't want to fight. This is not prime real estate, as there are no females on this beach to take into your harem if you win. This standoff occured on Loser's Beach.

Chasing the challenging seal - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

They both moved really fast during this portion of the chase (pretty cool to see in the video!), and in this very unsharp frame, you can see just how high the beachmaster was able to push his body off the ground during his mad dash.

Elephant seal retreat - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

The dominant male pulled up once he was sure that the other was on his way off the beach, and as you can see in the video, he seemed to celebrate with an air of "This is my beach -- anyone else want to mess with me?" The challenging male didn't stop running until he hit the water, and then he slowly moved off over the next 5 minutes or so.

Retreating into the waves

And now, what you've all been waiting for, a video of the action. It took the challenger a short while to come out of the waves and onto the sand, at which point the current beachmaster charged at him. I've shown an abbreviated version of the challenger's approach in the video. After each short burst of motion in his advancement, he would flop back to the ground and wait for a few minutes before starting to move again. It seemed like he didn't want to waste extra energy, but also to size up the bull he was challenging. Enjoy the video, and watch for the dive-bombing pelican in the background at around 5 seconds in!



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See more images of these awesome marine mammals in my elephant seals gallery.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Eye contact, Año Nuevo State Reserve

Elephant seal eye contact - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

A large bull elephant seal glancing my way at Año Nuevo State Reserve. This big bloke didn't seem to mind us being on the beach with him, which is no surprise since he received a steady stream of visitors, but he periodically wanted to check where we were. For these shots, he was turned to face the trail that came down to the beach, and was displaying as new visitors arrived around the bend (I suppose he wanted to make it clear that he's the owner of this territory). After showing off for them, he often would glance back our way to make sure that he knew where we were. There was one time when my wife had gone a bit further down the beach to check out the really cool fossil-filled rocks there, and he glanced over backwards like this in my direction. When he saw only me, he noticeably started scanning the beach until his gaze found her location, and then he put his head down and closed his eyes again. Just keeping tabs on the visitors in his domain, I suppose.

Watchful elephant seal - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

It's fascinating to see such a large animal like this (the northern elephant seal is the second largest seal species in the world, smaller than only the southern elephant seal) be so flexible. It's not so surprising to see the much smaller harbor seal contort its back, or certainly a California seal lion, but it's pretty incredible to see one of these brutes bend over backwards.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Elephant Seal Beachmaster -- My 200th Blog Post!

How time flies when you're having fun! This is a special occasion post, and not just because it's for Groundhog's Day! This is post number 200 on the blog! The first one stretches back to October 2009, when I wasn't really sure what to do with a blog or why I should make one. But it's been a really fun ride since I started, and I look forward to the next 200 to come. Thanks to everyone who has kept up with my photography over the past few years, and I hope you've enjoyed seeing what I have to share!

In honor of this special round-number occasion, I figured I should go with my favorite winter subjects, the northern elephant seals of Año Nuevo State Reserve. This large male is rejoicing in the fact that he has kept his throne as the beachmaster of Loser's Beach. Just a few minutes prior we watched a rival male come out of the waves and onto the beach, and we had the pleasure of watching the standoff that followed. I have some images of the event, and even more interestingly, my wife took some video with her pocket cam -- and I hope to have all of that on the blog in the next few days, so stay tuned!

Photograph of an elephant seal beachmaster at Año Nuevo State Reserve

By the time I was taking these photographs, the sun had dipped below the marine layer for the night, leaving behind a world of pastel colors. While I enjoy taking the detailed shots of these guys displaying, I couldn't resist zooming out and placing him in his gorgeous domain. The cliffs along the beach here have the classic San Mateo Coastline look, and sure do make for a beautiful backdrop for the seals.

Photograph of a bull elephant seal in its environment

View more photographs of elephant seals in Año Nuevo State Reserve.


Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Año Nuevo Sunset

Año Nuevo Sunset -- Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

The sky was gorgeous during our trip to Año Nuevo State Reserve earlier this month to see the elephant seals, and this shot doesn't do it justice at all. As the sun dropped to the horizon we had a nice mix of diffuse light and golden rays falling on the elephant seals of Loser's Beach.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Elephant seal silhouette, Año Nuevo State Reserve

Elephant seal silhouette -- Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

The backlit shape of a male northern elephant seal at sunset. This is certainly not my traditional style of photography, but they have a wonderful form when they are reared up like this, and I couldn't help but to snap off a few frames when the opportunity arose.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Enjoying the sunset, Año Nuevo State Reserve

A quieter moment on the beach compared with my previous post of this guy. Even though they are huge, I still think they can have the cute expression of a friendly dog -- and I swear I can see him smiling in this one while he enjoys the sunset!

Elephant seal enjoying the sunset -- Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

Monday, January 17, 2011

The sounds of the northern elephant seal, Año Nuevo State Reserve

Posturing bull northern elephant seal -- Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

One of the most fun parts of watching the northern elephant seals at Año Nuevo State Reserve is when a large bull decides to make his presence known on the beach. We stopped by this bull around sunset, since he was really going at it. In addition to pulling up into the posture that they use for fighting -- they get into some serious fights over dominance by pulling up like this and swinging their necks at each other, then when they make contact, they bite and tear with those big teeth -- they make a unique vocalization that can be heard from quite a distance away. It's sort of like a burping/gurgling sound, but thanks to my wife I don't have to try to describe it better, since she took a video clip while we were on the beach.




As you saw in the video, once they are done displaying, they'll flop back to the ground and look rather peaceful again. This makes for some interesting poses as they come back towards the sand, and I think they look kind of cute with that droopy face.

Coming down -- Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Resting beauty, Año Nuevo State Reserve

Resting northern elephant seal -- Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

Two shots of a male northern elephant seal resting on the beach at sunset in Año Nuevo State Reserve. Its fun to watch them display and make their very unique vocalizations, but most of the time they are just relaxing in the sand.

The whole elephant seal -- Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Here come the elephant seals, Año Nuevo State Reserve

Last weekend was our annual trip to Año Nuevo State Reserve to see the northern elephant seals. We had a terrific trip, and I came home with some images that I'm pretty excited about. Thus, there will likely be a lot of big marine mammals on the blog this week. I'm just so fascinated by these awesome creatures!

Nothern elephant seal, Año Nuevo State Reserve -- Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

Here are two shots to get things started while I work my way through the pile. This is a bull on Loser's Beach making his presence known around sunset. I like the first image slightly more since the eye is a bit more visible, but the second one shows him stretched a bit taller with the nose a tad more prominent (I know, pretty subtle differences). This guy was no where near the largest of the bulls we saw, but he was the most photogenic.

Bull northern elephant seal, Año Nuevo State Reserve -- Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

And since making-of images are always fun, here's a shot taken by my wife of me behind the lens photographing this male. The rule at the reserve is to stay at least 25 feet away from the seals at all times, but I'm not sure that I would ever want to get that close!

Elephant seal making of

Friday, January 7, 2011

Resting elephant seal, Año Nuevo State Reserve

One more shot from the archives of my 2010 trip to Año Nuevo State Reserve. This is another male northern elephant seal resting on Loser's Beach in the reserve. You can see an additional male in the backdrop of this image, its the brownish blob near the cliff base.

Male northern elephant seal -- Pat Ulrich Wildlife and Nature Photography

In February I posted a portrait of this particular seal, which is one of my favorite shots of these guys. As I mentioned at the time, they are often regarded as loud, aggressive beasts (which they can be at times), but I like to show off their more relaxed side, since they spend a lot of their time resting.

Sleeping giant -- Pat Ulrich Wildlife and Nature Photography

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Año Nuevo Beach Scene

How many pups do you see? Northern elephant seals -- Pat Ulrich Wildlife and Nature Photography

The density of elephant seals in the breeding colony at Año Nuevo State Reserve is pretty interesting. Here you can see a group of mothers with their pups (the cute little black ones) together on the beach. They more or less stay about one biting-distance away from each other, and we saw a few arguments break out between females that got too close to another one's pup. Likely there would be one beachmaster bull that has control of this harem, although other bulls will stay around the edges to take advantage of an opportunity, should it arise. This likely also accounts for when the seals stay so close, since the male will herd the females together into his territory on the beach. The pups are awfully cute when they are born, and soon enough they'll be over 300 pounds! I wrote a short post about their amazing first few months with some close-up shots of the pups in a previous post, if you are interested.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Elephant seal season, Año Nuevo State Reserve

That time of year again. Northern elephant seals -- Pat Ulrich Wildlife and Nature Photography

Happy 2011, everyone! I hope you had a wonderful holiday season. I had a great trip to visit with my family, but it never seems to last long enough. One redeeming thing about the end of the holiday season though, is that I'm due for my annual pilgrimage to Año Nuevo State Reserve to see the elephant seals. Since I hope to get down there soon, I've flipped through my trip from last year and found a few shots that I never posted. This shot is of a fairly large bull relaxing on Loser's Beach (where the non-dominant bulls go to rest away from the crowd).

Thursday, March 11, 2010

A pup's life

Around this time of year at Año Nuveo State Reserve, most of the adult northern elephant seals have gone back to sea, and all that's left are the weaners (the term applied to the young seals that have been weaned and left behind to fend for themselves). The shots in this post are from when the seals are much younger, only a few days after they are born in January. Our annual winter trip was full of babies this time, and it was great to be on the ground-level with them.

Its tough being a pup

When these cute little pups are born they're jet black, weigh around 75 pounds, and live on a diet of their mother's very rich milk (over half of it is fat). In the 28 days or so that they nurse they'll gain around 10 pounds a day and weigh upwards of 350 pounds when they are weaned. This is an incredible growth spurt, and it is quite taxing on the mother who fasts during her entire stay.

Lunchtime

And while all of that growing might seem a bit tiring...

Cute scratcher

...its not all about lounging on the beach, feasting, and looking cute. After those relatively easy first four weeks their mothers will disappear back into the ocean, and the pups are very suddenly weaned. At this point they are completely on their own, and need to figure out how to swim, and even how to eat.

Mom, baby, and dad (?)

By the end of April the self-taught pups will follow their instinct and head out to sea. Amazingly, they'll all individually head north to feed along the coast and won't touch land again until they return to this same beach in September.

Elephant seal hug

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Resting giant

Sleeping giant

By now, most of the large male elephant seals are likely back out at sea, where they'll stay without coming back to land until sometime in July. This shot is from my trip to Ano Nuevo State Reserve in January, and is of a sleepy large male along the loser's beach in the park. Since these guys are usually thought of as big ugly aggressive beasts, I like to show their more mellow side -- and really, they spend most of their time resting anyway. In this shot, I like how clearly you can see their eyebrows, which is a clear patch of nine fat hairs.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Elephant seal flippers

Flipper abstraction

While on the beach with these guys, I spent a fair amount of time at the longest range of my zoom trying to work for some intimate portraits. Mostly I was focused on the faces of the old males and their wonderful big nose and textured chest shields. However, their flippers have always intrigued me as well.

Flipper-nails

They have five fingers within their flipper and each ends in a tiny little "flipper-nail" (for lack of a better term). While at first glance it seems to beg the question of why they would still evolutionarily need nails at the end, it does appear that they are good for scratching an itch upon occasion (although, one would think there might be a better reason as well).

Scratch that itch

It's really interesting to watch them use their flipper, as you can see that their bone structure really must be similar to ours, where there are multiple knuckles in their "fingers".