The Sonoma Coast is as beautiful as it is abundant, with breathtaking vistas that are home to many forms of wild animals. Depending on the time of year, visitors to the coastline can observe a great marine mammal migration, particularly that of the California gray whale. Many marine mammals, including seals and sea lions, whales and dolphins, can be seen at different times of the year right from shore.
When visiting the coast, you may come across a live seal or sea lion on a beach or someplace that may not seem safe for you or the animal. Marine mammals will often land themselves on a beach for warmth. These haul outs, as they are called, are normal behavior and crucial for their survival.
Beach strandings, however, can occur during pupping seasons or high surf and rough ocean conditions. Sometimes, stranded pups can be malnourished because they haven't learned to feed themselves. Strandings can also be caused by illness (leptospirosis, domoic acid poisoning and pneumonia), a parasitic issue, or perhaps the animal has been injured (boat props, netting wounds or entanglement, shark bites, bullet wounds).
It's very important to report any perceived stranding so that professionals can make an assessment. After receiving a call and locating the stranded animal, Sausalito's Marine Mammal Center staff and park rangers place signs out at a safe distance from healthy animals so that they can return to the water on their own while people keep a distance of 50 to 100 feet. Sick or injured animals are taken to the Marin Mammal Center for further treatment, rehabilitation and ultimately released back into the ocean.
Sonoma County's most visible species are the California sea lion, the northern elephant seal and the Pacific harbor seal. Male elephant seals can weigh as much as 4,500 pounds, and a male California sea lion, as much as 850 pounds. This is why it is important to keep your distance. Remember, too, that these are federally protected species, and it is illegal to harass, touch or injure them.
Brandon Brédo is supervising park ranger for Sonoma County Regional Parks. SonomaCountyParks.org. Open Mic is a weekly feature in the 'Bohemian.' We welcome your contribution. To have your topical essay of 350 words considered for publication, write firstname.lastname@example.org.