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Prime viewing time for whales, seals along Point Reyes coastline

Majestic gray whales and lumbering elephant seals are back along the Point Reyes coastline, and visitors are getting a show.

"It's pretty active out here," said John Golda, a ranger with the Point Reyes National Seashore. "The first elephant seal pups have been born and the big bull elephant seals are here. We saw 16 whales."

The park service offers a shuttle to view the action and it will run today as well as weekends through mid-April.

Because Point Reyes juts 10 miles into the ocean, it gives people close views of the whales, which are in the midst of their migration in which they log some 10,000 miles each year -- the longest of any mammal. They spend about a third of their lives migrating, scientists say.

The migration is driven by food. The Bering and Chukchi seas off Siberia and Alaska provide a feeding ground for whales, but as winter approaches and days grow shorter and colder, the whales begin their journey south to the warmer climate of Baja California.

Closer to shore, northern elephant seals are massing at beaches along the point. North Drakes Beach near Chimney Rock is one of the better spots to see the large animals. Males can weigh up to 3,500 pounds and females up to 1,500 pounds.

The nearby Elephant Seal Overlook Trail provides the ideal, and safe, place to watch the goings on. Elephant seals spend 90 percent of their lives at sea, coming ashore to mate and give birth.

Dominant bull males run a harem and will take over a section of beach and mate with between 25 and 50 females as they fight off other males.

Nearby other elephant seals give birth to 60-pound babies. By the time peak pupping season comes in January there will be 1,400 elephant seals, including 300 pups, on Point Reyes beaches.


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