Mendocino: Big River Wildlife

Big River is certainly a very special place. Here at Catch a Canoe we have listened to the stories of thousands of paddlers who’ve returned to our dock. Our first question typically is: how was your trip? The answer that invariably comes back more than any other is – “we saw some seals!” or “we saw the family of otters!”

As enjoyable as paddling a canoe or kayak up beautiful Big River is, it’s the wildlife which really grabs us the most. Seeing the marine mammals and abundant bird life is wonderful, but having an opportunity to learn all about them from an experienced local naturalist is the best way to fly/paddle!

big river mendocino harbor seals

Harbor Seals (Phoca Vitulina)

Harbor Seals can be observed in Big River Estuary at almost any time of year. These shy, curious pinnipeds spend much of their time foraging in the ocean as well as in the estuary.

Equally important to the time spent foraging, is the time they spend resting or “hauled out” on offshore rocks, logs or small islands within the estuary. This allows them to thermoregulate or bring their body temperate up. Did you know seals can get hypothermia?

In the early spring it’s possible to quietly observe pups with their ever watchful moms. The mom and pup bond is strong and begins immediately after birth with nose to nose contact. This “kiss” is repeated frequently on land as well as in the water. If you’re lucky enough to observe this, it’s sure to make you smile.

Harbor seal pups are one of the few pinniped newborns that are capable of swimming within hours of birth and are weaned at around six weeks of age. Once weaned, they learn from mom to forage on their own, but may start out dinning on crustaceans and graduate later to faster moving fish as they grow into adept predators.

It’s extremely important to observe seals from a distance. Frequent disturbances can break the bond and cause pups to be abandoned. Please stay back a minimum of 100 feet.

To report a stranded Marine Mammal please contact The Marine Mammal Center @ (415)-289-SEAL (7325)