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From docks to rocks, marine mammals grace the coastline

Harbor seals haul out onto the rocky bank of the estuary at the Port of Gold Beach, an easy place to spot the sea mammals. The Pilot/Scott Graves
Rain or no rain, in the harbors or at one of the innumerable ocean coves and offshore rocks, visitors to America’s Wild Rivers Coast can see four main types of marine mammal, although they should keep their distance for the safety of everyone.


Harbor Seal

The harbor seal is one of the most commonly seen marine mammals along the Oregon and Northern California coastline.

Harbor seals can reach 6 feet in length, weigh up to 300 pounds and have spotted coats in a variety of shades from silver-gray to black or dark brown.

Their preferred haunts are beaches, docks and close-lying rocks. They are opportunistic feeders, living off a variety of fish and invertebrates and can dive up to 1,500 feet for up to 40 minutes. They spend about half their time in the water, sometimes even sleeping there.

The total harbor seal population in the eastern north Pacific is estimated at 330,000 and in California the estimated population is 40,000.


Northern Elephant Seal

The elephant seal got its name from a large nose that resembles an elephant’s trunk.

The northern elephant seal is the second-largest seal in the world with males getting as big as 13 feet and 4,500 pounds and females growing up to 10 feet in length and weighing in at 1,500 pounds.

The elephant seal spends only a little time on land, during breeding season. The rest of the time it lives nearly 5,000 miles off shore and commonly descends to 5,000 feet below the ocean’s surface.

While in the open ocean the elephant seal spends the majority of its time underwater, diving for two hours at a time and rarely spending more than four minutes on the surface.

It is believed to eat deep-water, bottom-dwelling marine animals such as eels, rockfish and squid.

The typical way to see elephant seals is through a spotting scope or binoculars because they breed on offshore islands.


California Sea Lion

California sea lions are members of the “walking” family of seals because they have large flippers to propel themselves on land.

According to experts, California sea lions can outrace humans over short distances.

The California sea lion ranges in color from chocolate brown in males to a lighter golden brown in females. Males can grow to as large as 7 feet in length and 1,000 pounds. Females  weigh up to 220 pounds and grow up to 6 feet in length.

California sea lions breed mainly on offshore islands, but can also be found sunning themselves on docks and beaches without much regard for the presence of humans.

They are opportunistic eaters and will feed on squid, octopus, herring, rockfish, mackerel and small sharks.

The current population of the California sea lion is approximately 200,000.


Stellar Sea Lion

While stellar or northern sea lions are sometimes confused with California sea lions, they are much larger and lighter in color.

Males grow up to 11 feet and weigh almost 2,500 pounds and females may grow to 9 feet and weigh 1,000 pounds.

It is much rarer to see stellar sea lions because while their range is similar to that of California sea lions along the West Coast, they tend to spend much of their time off shore and only breed on unpopulated beaches.

They eat a variety of fish and invertebrates and even occasionally other marine mammals.

Unlike the other three species of marine mammals commonly seen in this area, stellar sea lion pups are born off shore from mid-May to mid-July.

The current population of stellar sea lions is approximately 40,000, with about 500 living in California and the rest in Oregon and Washington. According to experts, there is concern about the population in California because it has dropped by 80 percent in the last 30 years.

 While rare, it is possible to see stellar sea lions through spotting scopes or binoculars on Castle Rock of Crescent City and offshore rocks dotting the Oregon Coast.

According to experts there is also a colony of stellar sea lions north of the mouth of the Klamath River, but the area is remote and getting a glimpse of them is nearly impossible. Hikers can hear their barking from the Coastal Trail.

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