Sunday, January 9, 2011

Return to Shell Island

My last post, "Making Whoopee in the Sand" comes from this same location, one of the best viewing spots on the Oregon Coast.

Arrived at Shell Island right at high tide: 12:32. Water sloshing all over the beach. Darn. Not likely either of the elephant seal pups survived. In spite of that it is a beautiful day here. Chilly, but no wind. High surf. Huge white plumes break on the outer reef and explode upwards. The most athletic sea lions have crawled high on the rocks out of reach of the surging waves. Seals can’t climb, so none of them up there. I settle in to draw a couple of pelagic cormorants and sea lions high on one of the smaller outcrops of rock.

1:30 PM: Did I see an elephant seal pup? Maybe. Water still sloshes over the beach but I thought for a moment I saw a little black head being tossed about.

I check with the spotting scope, but all I see is the beachmaster and three or four females hoping for a rest on the sand. Sand exposes for a minute or two and the elephant seals come lumbering in – only to get washed off again. It is not an easy life at high tide!

2:30 PM: Yes! There is one elephant seal pup out there. His is hollering and his Mama is hollering. Actually I can’t hear them. The surf drowns out all the loudest sea lion bark. But the elephant seal’s mouths are wagging. Mama and pup are trying to reach each other.

The pup looks to be in good shape. He has filled out some since we last saw him. Not surprising. It’s been six days and they are supposed to gain about ten pounds a day.

Mama is doing her darndest to co-operate. She ambulates along on her belly towards him, and he ambulates towards her. Noses touch. The little guy wants milk. Mama obligingly rolls to her side. He just starts to nurse when, whoosh! A big breaker rolls them apart. This high surf is bothersome, but the baby seems to be doing just fine.

There are seven females (and or young males) out there today. I can’t swear this is a pup from six days ago and not a new one, but the fact that he is putting on weight and obviously coped with this last high tide leads me to believe this is one of the two we saw a few days ago. The really good news is we’ve just passed the new moon. It will be nine days before the tide is this high again. Barring a storm, this little guy just might be a survivor.

By three PM our little pup has suckled and the waves just lap the outer edges of the beach. The beach will stay clear of water until the next high tide, many hours from now. The pup is flat out, sound asleep.

We stayed another hour and a half. As the tide went out about a hundred harbor seals came ashore, but very few sea lions. Those that were in the area were already high on the rocks. Black oystercatchers, double-crested cormorants and a great blue heron came down to forage in the shallow water. Harlequin ducks bobbed in the choppy water, then climbed up on the rocks to preen … and whales. The swells are large, but smooth. No wind to give them whitecaps, and so the whale spouts puff up and blink like little puffs of smoke against the dark water. A handful of whales are passing by, heading south to their birthing grounds in Mexico.


  1. What excitement seeing the pup again. I hope it survives. To see whales pass by must be thrilling. Your sketches caught the scene perfectly.

  2. Elva, what a beautiful area you live in. How amazing to be able to sit on the beach and sketch these wonderful creatures, you have captured them beautifully.

  3. It's so much fun to go, vicariously, out to the ocean with you, Elva! I love the watercolor at the beginning of the story!