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Seal Watching and More in Morro Bay
November, 2009 - Issue #61
The setting sun highlights Morro Rock and a commercial fishing boat tied up at Morro Bay.
The setting sun highlights Morro Rock and a commercial fishing boat tied up at Morro Bay.
Morro Bay is a different kind of California beach town.

Unlike some of its more pretentious coastal cousins, it's a down-to-earth, come-as-you-are kind of place with an eclectic waterfront and a lot of fog. It also boasts a horizon-dominating 576-foot high domed rock my 3 year old referred to as "that mountain thing."

It's still touristy, like any beach town, but far from pretentious. It's the kind of place where your seafood lunch comes with a sneak peak of someone else's while it's still squirming.

Sitting on the patio at Rose's Bar & Grill waiting for my plate of Famous Cabo Tacos, I watched three guys on the next dock busy flinging handfuls of goo into the bay.

Curiosity got the better of me. So I pulled Laurel, 6, Drew, 4, and Brooke, 3, away from coloring their kids menus to help me investigate. We peered into three large saltwater tanks and found twisted knots of snake-like purplish-grey creatures floating in clouds of slime.

"They're slime eels," one of the workers said in between tosses. They secrete the slime to defend themselves and the tanks must be cleared regularly to keep them from asphyxiating.

These slime eels, or hagfish, were headed for Korea. Fortunately, he didn't say why. I learned later they are considered an aphrodisiac. That would have been an awkward conversation with the kids.

After lunch, we saw Morro Bay from a different perspective - the bay. We spent an hour cruising in a quiet, 18-foot electric boat rented from At the Helm on the Embarcadero.

What really made it worthwhile was the chance to get close to the seals and sea lions that make the bay their playground. We heard them barking at one another while we walked along the waterfront, and even caught glimpses of them.

But on the water, we were among them. The kids bounced from one side of the boat to the other as the seals and sea lions dove and resurfaced all around us. Even 17-month-old Amber was into it. More than once April had to grab her life jacket to keep her from climbing overboard to play with the pinnipeds.

"I want to buy a sea lion," Brooke announced. While our home is not equipped with the requisite salt water pool, I would know what to feed it. We glided by a young one busy with a ray, alternating between gnawing on it, and flinging it across the water.

The seals in the bay were cute. But not their distant, landlubbing cousins we saw on our afternoon drive.

About 30 miles north of Morro Bay, just past Hearst Castle on Highway 1, is the Piedras Blancas elephant seal rookery. A colony of several thousand elephant seals calls this scenic beach home when they're not commuting to and from their Alaskan feeding grounds.

These two-and-a-half-ton behemoths get their name from the male's large bulbous snout. Males and females haul themselves on shore for breeding, birthing and molting (shedding their fur). It's amazing to watch such a large creature on land, and they are quite entertaining with their snorting, decidedly ungraceful movements, and breeding season sparring. Mostly, they just lie on the beach and flip sand on themselves to cool down.

The elephant seals first arrived in 1990 as a result of overcrowding in other rookeries. It looks like they picked the right place - a stretch of coastline near a laidback town where you can relax, be comfortable, and do your own thing.

Not that I'm into wallowing on the beach and flipping sand on myself.

Eric Harnish lives in Newhall.

Make yourself Comfortable in Morro Bay
"The kids bounced
from one side of the
boat to the other as
the SEALS and
SEA LIONS

dove and resurfaced
all around us."
Morro Dunes Resort Campground

805-772-2722
www.morrodunes.com

At the Helm Electric Boat Rentals
805-771-9337
www.at-the-helm-boats.com

Rose's Bar & Grill
805-772-4441
www.spyglassinnrestaurant.com

Elephant Seal Viewing
805-924-1628
www.elephantseal.org
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