The month of March brings coastal fog, which sometimes can roll in so quickly that one second I can see the seals out on the reef rocks offshore & the next second it is all shrouded in fog. The winter rains have made the blooming of red Aloe Vera flowers along the bluffs at the La Jolla Cove even more stunning than usual. It’s a picture-perfect postcard photo op with aqua waves breaking onto the small beach with rugged sandstone bluffs in the background & the red-orange flower spikes in the foreground. Hummingbirds flit among the Aloe Vera flowers & lap up the flower nectar like bees.
The sandstone bluffs that surround the west side of the La Jolla Cove beach have been carved out by the sea into a cave. People that enter the cave find that it is a tunnel that can be walked through at low tide to get a closer sea-level look at the sea lions perched on surrounding small rocks. During high tide the cave tunnel is filled with ocean waves crashing & breaking and it is dangerous to be inside.
March means the return of male sea lions that will bluster & bark & bully each other to see who the biggest & strongest male is. The winner gets his harem of female sea lions! We are so fortunate to have the sea lion colony here in San Diego & the opportunity to view these marine mammals in nature living their sea lion lives is a real treasure.
Meanwhile at the south end of the park, the Harbor seal pupping season is in full swing & the rookery is seeing lots of action with many births occurring each day. Most days the beach is also filled end to end with more than 175 seals with many more on outlying reef rocks. It is an awesome sight to walk out onto the seawall & view our Harbor seal colony. Because this beach is closed to people from December 15 to May 15, the Harbor seals are able to give birth & nurse their pups in peace. The closed beach also brings California Brown Pelicans to roost on the beach. The pelicans take sea baths off shore & impress us with their winter breeding plumage of bright red & green pouches.
The main attraction of course is that the pupping season is in full-swing & pups seem to be everywhere!
One Harbor seal we watch for year after year that is dear to our hearts is called Lola Lollipop. Lola somehow sustained an eye injury a long time ago and it has caused one of her eyes to protrude out of her face. It looks like a recent painful injury and visitors always ask about her. Lola is a bit skittish due to having only one eye & can be easily frightened away. Lola Lollipop only shows up once a year when she is pregnant & to give birth to her pup. I have watched her now for 4 years & have been fortunate enough to watch two of her pups born. This year’s pup was given birth to on the beach, but Lola immediately took her pup out to a reef rock off shore. Lola Lollipop’s pup was adorable, healthy & strong and received the name LolliPup. When LolliPup got tired, she was seen swimming on Lola’s back. A few days later Lola was seen swimming with her pup in the sheltered from the waves Champagne Pool behind the sea wall. Lola stuck her head out of the water & leaned it back to touch noses with the pup that was directly behind her. Lola was clearly smiling & the pup was happy, too. It is such a sweet moment to be able to stand & watch them together.
When the Harbor seal pups come up onto the beach, they nurse for a while & fall into a deep slumbering sleep. These tiny little seals sleeping with tightly closed eyes are just the cutest thing ever & many hearts simply melt at the sight of them. It is wonderful to watch as the pups learn how to turn around & chase off the pesky seagulls, which like to sneak up to peck Harbor seal pup tails. Harbor seals don’t touch each other except during mating or when they have a nursing pup. If they accidently touch one another on the beach, they sort of slap each other with their front flippers & growl at each other. Learning how to keep seals from rolling over & crushing you is something the little Harbor seal pups have to learn. The Harbor seal pups seem to like to practice slapping each other because they are equal in size.
Champagne Pool is sheltered from crashing waves & Harbor seal moms take their pups there to safely swim & play with each other while the moms take one-eye-open floating naps. The swimming Harbor seal pups are like mermaids of the sea. They can swim through the sea like little rockets & just as easily take floating naps. Sometimes they chase the bright orange Garibaldi fish out from under the reef rocks. Other times the Harbor seal pups playfully carry bits of seaweed in their mouths. Harbor seal pups stay close to their moms until they are weaned, which is about 12 weeks. After they are weaned, they must be able to completely take care of themselves. So even if the Harbor seals look like they are playing, they are learning important things to take care of themselves & to live successfully in the Harbor seal colony.
During the pupping season I try to be at the beach even more often to watch the Harbor seals give birth & to nurse their pups. Visitors to the Harbor seals are very excited at the wonder of being able to see seals so close up in the wild and they have lots of questions. I am always happy to answer questions about the Harbor seals & the Sea Lions, too!
March has a lot of my focus on the sea lions & Harbor seals, but when I remember to lift my eyes to the horizon I am often treated to the sight of Gray whales swimming by on their migration. The spouting whales are abundant & on rare occasions we can spot as many as 20 whales swimming by at a time. Gray whales have a telltale heart-shaped blow, which can turn pink at sunset! How appropriate that there are pink hearts on the horizon to celebrate the arrival of the Harbor seal pups. I am so grateful at this beauty of nature right in my own back yard.