Año Nuevo State Park

INTRO/THEME MUSIC
LUNDSTEN: In this episode we visit Año Nuevo State Park and Reserve, located on California’s Central Coast.
STRACHAN: My name is Gary Strachan and I’m the Supervising Ranger for Año Nuevo State Reserve. I grew up along the coast in the 60s here and actually came to Año Nuevo when I was 16 and used to camp on the beach.
AMBIENT SOUND: Waves crashing, elephant seals, seagulls.
STRACHAN: In 1602 Vizcaíno, a Spanish Explorer, observed and wrote about Año Nuevo Island, how unique it was. They tried to come onshore in little dory off their boat but could not get to shore because of so many grizzly bears.
AMBIENT SOUND: Waves crashing, elephant seals, seagulls.
STRACHAN: Año Nuevo State Reserve was made a reserve in 1958 and it virtually hasn’t changed since then.
AMBIENT SOUND: Waves crashing, elephant seals, seagulls.
STRACHAN: The intertidal zone is phenomenal, there are more species of kelp and algae here than any other place in California. You can see almost every kind of fish and algae. There is abalone you can actually see—but cannot touch! And, it is a phenomenal place to come.
AMBIENT SOUND: Waves crashing, elephant seals, seagulls.
STRACHAN: The most unique part of this reserve is this breeding colony of Northern Elephant Seals. Basically, in terms of evolution, they were going to be whales in a couple of million years. These animals are second deepest diving marine animal, next to the sperm whale. Elephant seals can dive down to a mile, 5,000 feet plus. And they hold their breath for at least an hour and we just found out recently that when they are diving their heartbeat goes down to 2 beats per minute.
AMBIENT SOUND: Waves crashing, elephant seals, seagulls.
STRACHAN: So when you visit during the winter, especially during the breeding season, we have special guided tours out through the rookery and there are 5,000 animals out there and we have our specially trained community volunteers, docent naturalists, that are trained to keep the groups safe when you are walking through the sand dunes watching all the wildlife activities—the elephant seals mating, the cacophony of noise is amazing.
AMBIENT SOUND: Waves crashing, elephant seals, seagulls.
STRACHAN: In 1920 the Northern Elephant Seal was thought to be extinct to the world because they were hunted for their fat, just like whales were. But the Mexican Government located about 50 of them on Guadalupe Island, off the coast of Baja, in 1920 and immediately sent out a garrison of military to protect those seals. And the Mexican Government is the reason now, today, that we have over 5,000 Northern Elephant Seals come to Año. They’ve come back from the brink of extinction.
AMBIENT SOUND: Waves crashing, elephant seals, seagulls.
STRACHAN: The island we have here, is like a small Galápagos island because of the diversity of sea birds and marine mammals that use it. In 1880 the Federal Government built a lighthouse out there, and there are seals going in and out of it, living in it. Sometimes they lay in the bathtub upstairs. The early settlers, the Steel Families, came here in the 1860s and built these incredible heartwood redwood buildings—barns, homes—and the California State Parks Foundation and the California State Park system have partnered up, along with major foundations to save these buildings. We are going to use these facilities for the Marine Education Center.
AMBIENT SOUND: Waves crashing, elephant seals, seagulls.
STRACHAN: The restored Visitors Center, which is the old horse and cow barn, will have new exhibits. And they will all have updated information on the cultural and natural history of the area, mostly on elephant seals. There will be a plasma screen with a high tech radio beam that goes out to the island. There is a camera on the island that we’re going to be able to utilize remotely to watch the elephant seals, the Steller sea lions, and we’ve already captured great white sharks cruising the area.
AMBIENT SOUND: Waves crashing, elephant seals, seagulls.
STRACHAN: We want each person to walk away with an understanding of how important it is to set aside places like this for future generations to see. We want the future generations to say ‘Gosh, I’m so glad the California State Parks and the California State Parks Foundation realized how important it was to set aside these parts of the coast, for us.’
AMBIENT SOUND: Waves crashing, elephant seals, seagulls.
LUNDSTEN: The California State Parks Foundation gratefully acknowledges the generous support received in the creation of the Marine Education Center by Steve Blank and Alison Eliott.
OUTRO: If you want to find out more about the California State Parks Foundation and how you can help California State Parks, join our 90,000 members by visiting the Foundation on the web at www.calparks.org. This podcast was brought to you thanks to a generous donation from Lee and Victoria Black.