Park Wavelengths - December 2006


December 26, 2006

Naturalist Notebook: The end of the year brings some daylight low tides:

Saturday, December 30 2:03 pm -0.4 feet
Sunday December 31 2:53 pm -0.9 feet
Monday, January 1 3:39 pm -1.2 feet
Tuesday, January 2 4:24 pm -1.3 feet

The bright new moon on Wednesday, January 3 will obscure the Quadrantid meteor showers normally seen this time of year. It s called the Frost Fish moon by the Mic-Mac people of Maine - time to break holes in the ice and try for fresh fish in the winter.

Winter gifts of the season = 16 fish in Olema Creek; 11 fish in John West Fork with 8 redds ('nests' for eggs)! 3 egg masses of red legged frogs at Cemetery Pond! Forty students from Northwestern University contributed their winter break time to the park working on a variety of projects removing exotic species and planting native grasses! Park employees received recognition for their donations to the Combined Federal Campaign benefitting dozens of local agencies.

Biggest gift seals and whales: Northern elephant seals noisily settling along Drakes Beach. In particular, the large males arrive first to establish their territory; they are especially assertive and will rise up and bellow if approached. Watch along Drakes - those slumbering rocks may rear up unexpectedly. Marine mammals need a wide berth as they rest on beaches to restore their bodies for the rigors of living in 55 degree water and avoiding predators! Gray whales have been seen from the Lighthouse, on Friday two were seen late in the day, the spouts back lit by the setting sun. More should be passing by!

Reminder: while mushroom collecting and berry picking for personal use is permitted in the park - wash any materials thoroughly. Bacteria such as e coli are present from local domestic animals and can cause illness.

Saturday, January 6 Marin County naturalists lead a hike at the Estero Trail from 9:00 am to 3:00 pm. This trail is being mowed and cleared in preparation for a re-route project slated for spring.

All park visitor centers are open on Monday, January 1st and weather permitting the whale shuttle bus will be operating Saturday/Sunday/Monday of the holiday weekend.

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December 12, 2006

The peak of the Geminid meteor showers grace the skies late tomorrow night; looking south towards Orion, Gemini is on the left. 50 to 80 meteors per an hour have been noted but usually around midnight. The moon should be low enough in the sky to make it a good viewing year! The new moon arrives on December 20 along with high, 6 foot tides, followed by the winter solstice on Thursday, December 21, the shortest day of the year. Muir Woods rangers invite you to join them for the solstice among the redwoods from 3:00pm to 8:00 pm, luminarias light the way through the trees. This event is free and open to the public - more information at (415) 388-2595.

Sharks in the news - The shark injury in northern Tomales Bay/Dillons Beach is an area where seals mass to move through the narrow mouth of the bay to reach resting sites at Toms Point and Hog Island; thus drawing predators such as great white sharks. Sharks don't see well in the darkness underwater but sense electromagnetic fields of their prey as well have a sense referred to as 'distant touch' where they sense movements in the water. In general, the great white rises under it's prey which it recognizes by shape and then pulls it down into the water. Great whites are rarely seen in Tomales Bay south of Tom's Point though they have been seen attacking seals off the Lighthouse.

The first Northern Elephant seals may be seen from the Chimney Rock Overlook; a few large males have hauled out; more and more should be returning each day now. Traditionally, the big dominant or alpha male has arrived on December 15th!

Marin County Open Space naturalists host a walk up Devils Gulch on Thursday, December 21 between 9:00 am and 3:00 pm. Park just west of the Samuel P. Taylor state park entrance on Sir Francis Drake Highway for this exploration of waterfalls, spawning salmon, and mushrooms.

A permit has been issued for filming a car commercial on Thursday, December 14; staging is at South Beach and filming will take place on C Ranch and Chimney Rock Road between 5:00 am and 6:00 pm. Delays of no more than 5 minutes on Sir Francis Drake highway should be anticipated throughout the day.

All park visitor centers close at 2:00 pm on Sunday December 24 and are closed on Monday, December 25; roads and beaches remain open regular hours and rangers are on duty.

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December 5, 2006

Special Report - Elephant Seals
Forwarded from Dr. Sarah Allen, park Science Advisor:

Bull elephant seals were heard trumpeting on South Beach last week by visitors at the Lighthouse. A few females have arrived but no pups have been born yet. The first pup was born at Año Nuevo during the week of Thanksgiving but typically the first one at PRH occurs the first two weeks of December.

During the week of Thanksgiving this year, a female with a satellite tag arrived at PRH. Researchers from UC Santa Cruz retrieved the tag that they had attached to her a few months ago. You can see the journey of this seal on the website for Tagging Pacific Pelagics, along with other marine animals at:
Elephant seal # 2006058

This female is particularly interesting because she was one of several females returning so far this year that are not pregnant. A researcher, Dan Crocker, working on the project stated that UC sent out tags on 20+ females and many are returning not pregnant. Since females are still returning, he does not know yet what the percentage of non-pregnant females is, but so far this year, they are seeing more non-pregnant females than occurred in the 1998 El Nino. The NOAA Climate Center has predicted that 2007 will be an El Nino year.

The rapid increase of the ocean surface and mixed-layer temperatures along the South American coast over the past two months brought the average monthly temperature anomaly for October in the Niño 1+2 region to 1.23°C (2.2°F) above average, an increase of 0.19°C (0.34°F) since September.

What does this mean for the elephant seal season at PORE?

In 1998, large storms and elevated sea level washed out the colonies and pup mortality was high at the main colony (>85%). But many female seals formed two new colonies (South Beach and North Drakes Beach) where pup mortality was very low. Also, some pups that were washed out by large storms drifted into odd places such as Abbotts Lagoon and Drakes Beach parking lot. Depending on the timing and intensity of storms this year, we might see a similar scenario.


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Last updated: April 26, 2024

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