Lou Tornatzky Elephant Seal Docent
Volunteer Docent, Class of 2013
Q: How did you become interested in serving as a docent for the Friends of the Elephant Seal? How long have you been a docent?
A: Lynette and I moved to Los Osos in spring of 2005. We bought a house that needed LOTS of work, which occupied much of my time early on. However, I soon became aware of the elephant seals, drove up to see them, and worked as a docent for a couple years. In 2006, I got a job as a Professor and Department Chair at Cal Poly. The new job required a lot of time to re-build the Cal Poly curriculum, so I decided to put my docent commitment on hold. My stint at Cal Poly ended in early 2013 and I returned to be a regular docent. It felt like coming home.
Q: What is the most valuable piece of information you have learned about the Elephant Seals?
A: The fact that the setting, behaviors and outcomes that the animals experience changes dramatically throughout the year. For example, the combat by the males in early December yields at the end of the month to make room for births, formation of harems and so on.
Q: What is the most common or popular question you receive?
A: Often, when I am talking with visitors in March or April, I will ask them to cover their eyes and I quickly page back through my photos to images showing the big male fights in early December. I then ask them to take a look at the images, and note the different scene right now, on the beach.
Q: What is your favorite thing to teach visitors about the San Simeon Elephant Seal?
A: Where do the elephant seals go when they leave the beach? How much do they weigh? Can the seals see us well? How many seals come to our beach?
Q: What is the question you wish tourists would ask?
A: “How can I help the Friends of the Elephant Seal?”
Q: How many people do you guide/interact with on average?
A: I am on the bluff four times a month, and I try to talk with at least 100 people during each 3-hour shift.
Q: Why is your role as a docent so important in fulfilling the mission of the Friends of Elephant Seal?
A: I succeed when the visitors, whom I have been talking with, have a much clearer understanding of the animals’ lives and what they can learn throughout the different months of the year.
Q: What has been the most rewarding part of being a docent?
A: The most rewarding part of being a docent is when two special “customer groups” really get an understanding of the lives of the seals. Those two groups are (1) kids in grade school and (2) international travelers from all over the world.
Q: What are some of the critical milestones you’ve seen over the last 20 years since the Friends of the Elephant Seal (FES) was founded?
A: The growth of the colony; the dedication of the docents; the increasing quality of the food and discussions at our periodic meetings.
Q: What’s a secret fact about elephant seals that not many people know? Or something you wish more people knew?
A: Not a secret, but something that is not widely known is the variation of the North American population, plus the differences in the respective gene pools in North America and South America.
Q: What else would you like to share about your role as a docent?
A: I have held many jobs with universities, worked with governors and consulted with major companies, but being a docent has been by far the most rewarding.