Shirley Judy, a local photographer, captured the birth of a seal pup at the Harbor Seal Sanctuary in Carpinteria last month. Though witnessing a seal birth from the overlook is rare, late winter and early spring marks the time to look out for fresh pups, and Judy had her lens trained on the beach just before the birth occurred.
“It happened very quickly, so I just kept clicking. I noticed that as soon as it started the gulls moved in. They kept a little distance, but then one rushed in and picked the placenta right off the pup! The mother seal snarled at the gull so the bird backed up with the prize.” While the gulls got bit too personal with the seals in their front row seats, people are welcome view the beach sanctuary from a designated, monitored area on the cliffs above.
In fact, a committed network of volunteers keeps visitors informed, quiet and calm as they observe the seals below. Being quiet is one of many disciplines that keep the seals comfortable and coming back to the sanctuary location year after year. Ironically the adjacent oilrig service pier doesn’t seem to disturb the seals very much, and the large portion of beach is closed from December 1 to May 31 allowing the 100-400 seals to haul out and flounder around in the sand.
Volunteers monitor the seals every day to study and record trends as well as to enjoy the incredible show unfolding in front of them. Spending a couple hours a week volunteering contributes to the health of the seals but is also a great way to enjoy the natural beauty of the bluffs and other marine life. On a clear day the bluff-top viewpoint also offers a vantage from which to see dolphins, whales, and the seal’s more aggressive, sea lions who usually bask and bark on the buoys just offshore.
Beth Horvath, a long-time resident and professor of Marine Biology at Westmont College, offers insight to the Harbor Seal movement as well as perspective on conservation in California. “When it comes to conservation, the state of California has done more than most in its efforts to care for its land and all its diverse species.” However, with burgeoning human population in the state, more sewage, and more use of land and pesticides, she warns that environmental stewardship must be an ongoing discipline in order to truly make a lasting difference. Horvath encourages everyone to “live a little more intentionally – for instance, we’re in a serious drought now and we’re using water beyond our normal supply, so we need to be more thoughtful about our showering and other water usage.”
Carpinteria’s Scenic Seal Sanctuary sets a high bar for our city to keep sustaining its resources being conscientious of our environmental impact. Get more involved by doing your part at home or join the seal watch – they’re always open to new volunteers! Check out Cousteau’s Ocean Futures Society , the Santa Barbara Botanic Gardens , or Channel Islands Restoration.