Their faces may be cute, but these deep-sea divers are bloated and gassy. Occasional the fully-grown adults will kill the young accidentally by smushing them with their massive bodies – males can grow up to 14ft in length and weigh 5,000lbs! The northern elephant seal likes to decompress on the beaches of Año Nuevo State Park after diving deep into the northern Pacific ocean to hunt for food. Walking along the beach, you must keep your head on a swivel, as it is littered with farting, belching elephant seals. I was assured that they do not have the energy, desire, or wherewithal to attack – but those glassy black eyes are clearly harboring some kind of evil. The elephant seals also pose a risk to the archaeological sites situated on the point in Año Nuevo State Park, as their annual arrival on the beaches disturbed the soil and facilitates erosion, really.

Still, Año Nuevo was a lovely park to visit and the amount of cultural and natural resources contained within its boundaries is astounding. It was an unforgettable experience to witness the northern elephant seal up close, and to learn about the history of the region. Farther inland, I also had a chance to see a California orange-belied newt which was remarkably slow-moving and nonchalant about its encounter with us humans. Certainly worth a day-trip to escape the Bay Area and explore a beautiful coastal landscape.

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