the clowns of march By Charmaine Coimbra
he wild waves of winter have calmed. The northern elephant seal adults have returned to the Pacific Ocean to feed after a long winter of females birthing 60-80 pound babies; and the massive males fiercely battling for dominance and territory.
It’s March and the rookery clowns own the beach. The clowns, thousands of weaned northern elephant seal pups, leave the safety of bluffside weaner pods that they adopted when their mothers abandoned them four to five weeks after giving each one birth during the winter months. Most are in fine, fat shape. And it is time for these blubbery kids to teach themselves how to swim, dive and hunt. These 300-pound weaners kalump their roly-poly bodies to the tide pools, test the waters, squeal and cavort in the rocky shoreline of Piedras Blancas near San Simeon. It’s one of the noisiest and most entertaining seasons of the northern elephant seal. It’s also not the best known season. Most visitors want to watch the massive males battle it out while female seals birth their single pups on the beach from about mid-December through mid-February. Depending on the successful births and survival of the elephant seal pups during the winter months, you can observe perhaps 4,000 of these weaners discover their natural buoyancy. I promise a few good chuckles at their surprised faces when an unexpected wave crashes the party. Maybe it’s their big and round soulful eyes, or their pink mouths, or even the black whiskers that sprout from their lips and brows like black vinyl, that make these elephant seals-in-training pure entertainment. Rookery visitors usually gasp when I explain how pregnant females arrive on the beach after a long journey from the north-eastern Pacific Ocean, give birth to their pup, nurse it so that it gains about 10-pounds a day (while the mother loses about 20-pounds M A R C H