Elephant Seals Too Close For Comfort?

seals blackstone CBS

Among all nature's creatures, elephant seals are among the more unusual.

"They're ugly, but they are beautiful in their own way," said tourist Barry Frank.

But what is more unusual still is where thousands have chosen their favorite beach: right beside California's Highway One - a busy tourist route, CBS News correspondent John Blackstone reports.

"Twenty-five feet from the road! We're from Cincinnati - we don't see anything like this in Cincinnati," Frank said.

In fact you don't see anything like this almost anywhere.

Usually elephant seals choose isolated beaches to mate, give birth and nurse their pups. But on this stretch of coast about halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, the whole drama of elephant seal life has become a roadside attraction.

"You know, people spend thousands of dollars to mount a safari and go off to far-off lands to see wild animals when people just drive up here, get out of their cars, walk a short distance and see nature in its wildest," said Leander Tamoria, a supervising state park ranger.

For Tamoria, it's sometimes just a little too wild, as more and more seals show up every year. There are lots of big bulls fighting for dominance.

"Only the biggest, meanest, nastiest bulls will get to mate," Tamoria said.

And what follows is a horde of new pups. This year the crowd on the beach probably topped 16,000.

There's no doubt the elephant seal population on the California coast is thriving and that's good, at least until one of these 2,000-pound creatures decides to go where it doesn't belong.

Perhaps it's because the beach is so crowded that a few seals this year have gone looking for greener pastures.

That's when Tamoria organizes a posse to nudge them home.

But how do you nudge a 1,500-pound elephant seal?

"Very carefully!" Tamoria said.

The wayward seals get coaxed back to the beach - moving like some enormous, blubbery caterpillar. Better this, though, than meeting one on the nearby highway.

The rangers were successful again - seemingly proving that a 1,500-pound elephant seal cannot sleep anywhere he wants.
  • John Blackstone

    From his base in San Francisco, CBS News correspondent John Blackstone covers breaking stories throughout the West. That often means he is on the scene of wildfires, earthquakes, floods, hurricanes and rumbling volcanoes. He also reports on the high-tech industry in Silicon Valley and on social and economic trends that frequently begin in the West.

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