• American Camp parade ground looking west

    San Juan Island

    National Historical Park Washington

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  • English Camp Visitor Contact Station on Winter Schedule

    The English Camp visitor contact station in the Royal Marine Barracks is closed for the season, starting September 2. Grounds are open daily from dawn to 11 p.m.

  • American Camp Visitor Center on Winter Schedule

    The American Camp visitor center is open 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily from September 2 to June 6, 2015. Grounds remain open daily from dawn to 11 p.m. Telephone 360-378-2240, ext. 2227 or 2226 for information. 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?

Bald eagle feeding young.

The San Juan Islands have the largest concentration of bald eagles in the continental United States. The once active nest in this photo is located at the American Camp visitor center. More...