Two mammals are drawn to a stretch of Northern California's coast at this time of year: northern elephant seals and humans eager to see them.
Hundreds of the huge marine mammals cover the sands at Ano Nuevo State Park between Santa Cruz and Half Moon Bay to fight, mate and give birth. And Seal Adventure Weekend on Jan. 26 and 27 offers a rare opportunity to spend half a day observing and photographing the extraordinary lust fest on the beach.
"You'll see males without their own harems--we call them bachelors--lurking outside the harems, and the alpha bulls roaring at them," Joyce Pennell, president of the Coastside State Parks Assn., says of the event held during the height of the January breeding season.
Bulls mate at this time of year at the same time that females give birth and wean pups. (Check out a photo gallery of elephant seals.)
The drama plays out up and down California's coast, but Ano Nuevo is popular with the seals and provides easy access to the beach. Seal Adventure is offered just once a year and begins with a mile walk out to viewing areas that stretch out along another mile or so. Participants can take their time on the ocean bluffs and sand dunes to observe seals. Volunteer naturalists and park staff are on hand to answer questions and provide background on what happens during the winter breeding season.
Refreshments are served at the park during the day, and there's also an opportunity for participants to learn more about elephant seals from researchers at UC Santa Cruz at the park's Bookstore and Marine Education Center.
Tickets sell out quickly and are available online only; currently, Saturday morning tickets are most available. Tickets cost $50 each for tours from 8:30 a.m. to noon or 1 to 4:30 p.m. each weekend day. Parking costs an $10 per car. Funds raised from the weekend underwrite educational programs at the park.
If you miss out on Seal Adventure, there are daily tours until March 31 that leave every 15 minutes. It's a much shorter, quicker tour and costs $7 per adult.