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8 places to see exotic marine animals on dry land

By: Josh Lew on Jan. 29, 2014, 4:39 p.m.
An elephant seal yawns in Point Reyes.

Photo: Frank Schulenburg/flickr

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Point Reyes, California

The Point Reyes National Seashore is one of the most beautiful stretches of coastline in California. Located only 30 miles to the northwest of San Francisco, this area is easy to access and therefore a popular tourist destination. It not only receives a high number of human visitors, but it is also a hot spot for elephant seals. Once hunted to near-extinction, the seals began making a comeback in the area in the 1970s. A colony now thrives along the seashore. In fact, the seals are doing so well that they have spread out to neighboring beaches and often come face to face with sunbathers, hikers and picnickers.

During the mating and pupping seasons, when the elephant seals congregate on the beaches at Point Reyes, the National Park Service allows people to observe the aquatic mammals from a sea-cliff vantage point called Chimney Rock. From this altitude, it is also possible to see migrating gray whales swim just offshore. Point Reyes has become so popular that the park now operates a shuttle service from exterior parking lots to special seal-viewing areas along the shoreline.