Park Wavelengths - January 2003
January 22, 2003
Pacific gray whale sightings are on the upswing! In the clear weather last weekend, 30-50 were counted each day! Depending on the weather, we may see more and more in the next week, dropping off throughout February. Most of the sightings are adults further off the coast, we typically will see the calves and mothers closer to shore on the return migration in March and April. Access to the observation deck at the lighthouse is available seven days a week. Construction on the stairs continues, access down the 308 steps to the Lighthouse is limited to weekends right now.
The elephant seals are close to the peak of their time ashore with 559 park wide. The Chimney Rock colony has 97 seals with 52 females. The first pup has been weaned at Drakes Beach (once a pup is weaned, the female heads back to the water and thus mating activity begins). A tiny harem has formed on Drakes Beach just outside of the cove colony visible at Chimney Rock - visitors walking approximately two miles to the right or south on Drakes Beach may observe this group. (Visitors should not approach marine mammals, when the animals are onshore is an important time in their life cycle; if they are startled or "flushed" back into the water, the pups may be abandoned. The males may appear to be lethargic but when they feel threatened move very quickly!)
Time permitting, visitors may wish to explore not just the Overlook Trail at Chimney Rock but also make their way down to the Boathouse. Males often come ashore at the Boathouse or may be seen in the water off this area. They rest on the beach next to the Boathouse, sometimes hoping to confront the dominant or alpha male in the Chimney Rock colony or attempting to meet up with a departing female for mating!
There are 35 seals at South Beach, 15 pups. A temporary closure is in place at South Beach. It is about 1/2 mile south or left of the parking lot-no dogs or humans to allow the seals a peaceful and healthy breeding season. Chimney Rock remains also closed for tidepooling throughout the elephant seal season. Park staff are tagging the seals as part of ongoing population studies and may be seen among the seals in gray and green uniforms.
The contract shuttle service was called in this past weekend with unexpected delays on Saturday and an unexpected cancellation on Sunday. Two buses broke down on Saturday late in the day during the peak trip hours. Park Rangers remained on duty well into the evening and ferried all passengers back to their cars and then on Sunday regulated parking. We are working with the new contractor to get the shuttle service operating smoothly and regret any inconvenience. Visitors are encouraged to arrive early in the day to avoid crowds and lines. Shuttle service operates on weekends and holidays when the weather is nice.
Good daylight tidepooling days in the next few weeks:
The safest places are Duxbury Reef in Agate Beach County Park near Bolinas or hiking to Sculptured Beach off the Coast Trail.
Large amounts of brownish foam have been washing up on park beaches. It appears like great mounds of soap suds or pollutants but is in fact a natural part of the winter scene. It is composed of proteins from the bodies of dead sea critters and is whipped up by wave action - very similar to what happens when you beat egg whites into a meringue, the egg proteins or albumins make up the meringue. It has a slimy consistency and will stick to clothing though it washes out readily.
A beautiful display of Susan Hall paintings are at the Bear Valley Visitor Center. A newly published book of her Point Reyes paintings is also on sale. A new black and white photography book "Marin Revealed" published by Bev Schneir and Glynis Mariani has a forward by Isabel Allende and is also on sale at the visitor center.
Did You Know?
Marine biologists have identified nearly a third of all known marine mammal species in the waters surrounding Point Reyes. Blue whales and humpback whales feed here during spring and summer months. Gray whales migrate past our shores twice a year on their round trip from Alaska to Baja. More...