• American Camp parade ground looking west

    San Juan Island

    National Historical Park Washington

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    The American Camp visitor center is open 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.Wednesday-Sunday. The English Camp contact station is closed through May 31. Grounds at both units are open from dawn to 11 p.m. More »

Northern Elephant Seal

Gordon Smith

In recent years, increasing numbers of elephant seals have been observed molting on South Beach in American Camp. There is no mistaking the huge, brownish-gray adult males. They have large, pendulous, inflatable noses that resonate with sound when threatening others. They dominate with sheer bulk and vocal "clap-threats," which can be heard for miles.

They spend most their solitary life at sea, coming ashore for breeding in winter or molting in spring and summer. In fact, they are the only pinniped in this area to go through an annual catastrophic molt—sloughing off the outer layer of skin and fur. Gregarious and noisy with snorts and belches when on land, they sleep during the day, crowding close to others on sandy beaches.

Well known for their diving ability, they fan their broad hind flippers out for good propulsion and can dive continually at sea at great depths of 1,000 to 2,500 feet for 20 to 30 minutes. The deepest recorded dive is 5,141 feet, and the longest: two hours.

With canine teeth up to eight inches long, they sometimes forage on the sea bottom, and eat deep-water invertebrates and fish, including squid, octopus, crabs, rays, small sharks, and large fish.

If you encounter an elephant seal, please keep a safe distance of at least 200 yards.

Fast Facts_elephant seal

Did You Know?

Did You Know?

James Alden, commander of the USCS Steamer Active, carried dispatches during the Pig War crisis. During the Battle of Mobile Bay he led the Union fleet into the harbor until stalled by Confederate mines. That's when Admiral David G. Farragut shouted "Damn the torpedoes..."