Category: Exploring Nature Item
GPS Coordinates: 43.3162215, -124.405397
When the tide receded, Native American hunters would stalk seals and sea lions along a broad, flat stretch of basalt which provided an ideal “haul-out” area. Today, this area is called Simpson’s Reef and it’s clearly visible from the top of Cape Arago. On clear, windless days, you can see and hear hundreds of pinnipeds which still lumber out of the ocean to sun themselves on this rocky shelf. There are four major species which congregate on the reef and, with a good pair of binoculars, you can identify from the cliffs above.
Steller Sea Lion: The second largest pinniped on the reef, Steller Sea Lions are usually a light tan color and are considerably larger than California Sea Lions. Males have a thick furry ruff around their necks, similar to that of an African Lion. Like all sea lions, they have a hinged pelvis which lets them swing their back flippers under their bodies and maneuver better on land.
Harbor Seals: The smallest of the Simpson’s Reef pinnipeds, this seal will be the most challenging to find. An adult male will rarely grow longer than six feet (1.8 m) – or about the same length as a tall human being. This makes a pretty small target when you’re surveying the reef. However, the seal’s coloration may help. Many Harbor Seals are gray, tan or silver in color which provides for better contrast against the dark rock.
Northern Elephant Seal: Elephant Seals may be the easiest to pick out of the crowd of pinnipeds lounging on Simpson’s Reef. Not only are they the largest (measuring up to 16 feet long [4.87 m] and weighing in at six tons), they are also much darker than Harbor Seals and Sea Lions. Like their smaller cousins, the Elephant Seal has a straight flippers which drags behind it as it “flops” on its belly from place to place.
California Sea Lion: Perhaps the best known pinniped, these animals may be more difficult to spot on the reef. Their dark fur (usually a chocolate brown) blends well with the darkish rock; and if they’re not in motion, they may become virtually invisible. They have torpedo-shaped bodies with small heads. Like the Steller Sea Lion, their hinged pelvis lets them move efficiently on land.
The pinnipeds listed above are easier to see because they swim close to the surface, haul out on the rocks and need to surface often to breathe fresh air. But these animals will also be hunted by predators you may not see. The Great White Shark, Oregon’s largest predatory shark, may prowl the waters near the reef as it hunts seals and sea lions. Likewise, transient Orcas, may also navigate through the murky waters, working in family groups called “pods” to locate and share a kill. It’s highly unlikely that you’ll see these predators at work near Simpson’s Reef, but you can rest assured that where pinnipeds congregate, sharks and Orcas may be close by.