Elephant Seal Monitoring Project

DSC_2948In 2011 Drake High students began reading tags and counting northern elephant seals at the Point Reyes National Seashore under the supervision of Dr. Sarah Allen, a senior National Park Service biologist.  Watch us work!

wnrtag2_A tag attached to the tail flippers of a weaned northern elephant seal pup Point Reyes National Seashore Credit Jane Khudyakov
Credit: Jane Khudyakov

The plastic tags on the seal’s flippers are about 1″ long and have a four digit code written on them. We use a spotting scope to read the numbers. The colors on the tags tell us where the seal was born: Point Reyes (pink), Ano Nuevo (green), San Simeon (white) San Miguel Island (yellow) or even Mexico (blue.) We also count heads. Sometimes there are 1000 seals on the beach mating, nursing, fighting, sleeping, giving birth and barking.

Elephant seals in the fieldWe add the data to the NPS database, and analyze it ourselves. So far we have identified two focus questions:
Do young seals stay with with members of their birth cohort even when they migrate to other, far-away beaches?  Do young seals try other beaches, but then return to the beach they were born on when it’s time to reproduce?

Credit: Miles Lim
Credit: Miles Lim

Author | Teacher | Scientist