Living on the Monterey Bay provides me with a wonderful opportunity to capture images of many migrating animals from monarch butterflies to elephant seals. I’ve been fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with both these species and several others.
This is the season of the northern elephant seal. They began arriving at the colony locations ranging from Southern California to Northern California in December and now we are at the tail end of the breeding season. The males will be leaving soon to begin their journey north and the weaners will stick around for another couple of months. It’s a good time to see and photograph them. My favorite location is San Simeon on the Central Coast, not too far from San Luis Obispo.
The adult males are rather odd looking with that big proboscis that they develop. They look fat and lazy when on the beach but don’t kid yourself. Although the males can get as big as 15 feet long and 5000 lbs., they can still outrun a human for a short burst. The alphas will protect their harems by fighting and those fights are violent. Don’t press your luck by approaching them. Besides being dangerous, they are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Stay at least 100 yards away.
Photographing them presents a challenge. Use a tripod and a long lens on a stable surface. Viewing platforms are often wood and will vibrate substantially. Use an ISO 400 or faster film or set your ISO speed on a digital camera 400 up to 1250. Be sure to check for noise at the higher ISO settings.
Then it’s nap time for both you and the elephant seal.