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Elephant Seal Bulls Take Over Drakes Beach as Glad Gawkers Gape

POINT REYES STATION (KPIX) -- With Saturday's glorious weather, people flocked to Bay Area beaches. But one of them was off limits, thanks to some large, lonely pinnipeds looking for a little peace and quiet.

On the first of a three-day weekend in the middle of a pandemic, people were certain to be looking for a way to get outside but there were some attractions Saturday that drew more people than usual to the coast.

Point Reyes Station was bustling Saturday with what looked like summertime crowds. Blue skies and warm temperatures drew inlanders to rural Marin County looking for a little sun and sand.

"The weather's unusual. When we got out of our house I was hot," said Adrianne McBride, visiting from Lafayette. "It's cooler here but it feels good."

The main attraction was farther west, where the sun disappeared in the fog. Elephant seals have once again taken over Drakes Beach.

"It's so big and powerful but it's, like, peaceful -- nice," said 10-year-old Charlie Eliasoph from Mill Valley. "Yeah," said his older sister Lia, "and to see wildlife so close and not behind bars like a zoo -- it's really fun, you know?"

There were only about nine or 10 of of the lumpy marine mammals on the beach Saturday afternoon, a far cry from birthing season when the strand can be crowded with females and their newborn pups.

"We came here last year but there were a lot more," said 11-year-old Tatiana Ting. "So I guess I was expecting more but I didn't expect them to be that big. I didn't remember them being so big."

They were big because the seals Saturday were all males. Drakes Beach has become "bachelor beach," a kind of slackers' hangout for non-competitive bulls which are either too young or too old to fight for the right to mate.

"They may try to sneak in to one of the harems under the nose, so-to-speak, of another elephant seal bull or alpha bull. Or they might outright try to challenge an alpha bull for the harem," said park ranger Doug Hee. "Some of them may be successful but the vast majority will not be."

Most of the mating and birthing occurs at inaccessible beaches farther north in the Point Reyes headlands. As these unlucky males bided their time at Drake's Beach, the public got a chance to see them up close from behind concrete barricades. The beach was closed because there were too many seals to maintain proper distancing but normally rangers keep people at least 25 feet away.

"They're pretty tolerant of people around them," said Ranger Hee. "You certainly don't want to go right up to them because they can turn around very quickly and bite you. When they have a mind to, they can move on the beach fast, probably faster than you can run on the beach."

The rangers say the animals will be around through April but most of them leave in February after the females finish nursing their pups.

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