On a recent 40th anniversary trip to the West Coast my wife, Di, and I saw one of the most amazing sights. Just north of San Simeon on the Pacific Coast we caught these pictures of an elephant seal birthing and breeding colony.
Couldn’t believe the sights and sounds. All ages of males fighting in the water, on the beach, snorting, and roaring, while trying to protect their own territory, or raid the harem of another.
The alpha males were huge, the largest going about 3 to 5 thousand pounds. Seemed to use all of their strength to chase other bulls, before flopping exhausted to the sand, in between conquests of more females.
The cows were in the process of giving birth and nursing their pups for a month before breeding and heading back out to sea. Since they all have stopped feeding during this period, the i.e. 1,500 pound cows lose a lot of their weight while their pups quadruple theirs’ before going on their own.
The bulls are outrageous in their preoccupation with breeding as many cows as they can.
In the middle of all of this, any number of bulls are snorting, cows are screaming, and the pups are squealing, while hundreds of others seem to be trying to sleep off the commotion.
The sight draws a lot of visitors many of whom I sensed were just as astounded as we were by what we were seeing.
Volunteers helped a lot by mingling with the crowd by describing what was happening. They explained, for instance, that these seals travel to this stretch of beach from as far as the Aleutian Islands. On arrival, they stop feeding, give birth, and breed before heading out to sea again in about a month.
The volunteers showed us how to recognize the huge eight year old alpha-males that control their own stretch of beach while fighting off the younger bulls who have to be satisfied with quick raids on the big bull’s territory before being chased off. We watched the big alpha pictured to the left do his share of fighting and pursuing.
As I’ve been trying to process what we saw at San Simeon, am reminded again of the wonder of creation, the imagination of our Creator, and questions of why he designed such strange creatures… caught up in such a breathlessly desperate cycle of survival, reproduction, and sheer exhaustion.
Even in asking the question, I wonder whether one of his reasons might be to give us a reflection of ourselves, created in the likeness of God, but acting all too often like the amazing elephant seal– who lives from his Creator’s hand– without, I’m guessing– having a clue.