Lynette Harrison, Friends of the Elephant Seal Volunteer Docent
Lynette Harrison, Friends of the Elephant Seal Volunteer Docent

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:   I was hooked the first time I saw them back in 1997.  This was before there were docents and a boardwalk.  I thought they were magnificent!  I have been a docent since 2012.  I lived in the Fresno area and would come to the coast to do my docent shifts.  I now live in Cambria full time so doing my shifts are a lot easier.

Q:   What is the most valuable piece of information you have learned about the Elephant Seals? 

A:   Their life at sea.  How deep they dive and how far they travel twice a year when they migrate.  We only get to see a small portion of what their lives are like.  Most of the seals are only on the beach 2 months out of the year (adult males 4 months).

Q:   What is your favorite thing to teach visitors about the San Simeon Elephant Seal?

A:   How quickly the pups grow.  At birth they are about 60 to 80 pounds. In 1 month, they reach an average of 300 pounds.  All from their mother’s milk, which averages 55% fat.  Also, mothers leave pups after they are weaned. The pups (now weaners) have to live off their fat until they can learn to swim and dive.  It’s an incredible process!

Q:   What is the most common or popular question you receive?  

A:   Why do they flip sand?  During the spring molting season – Where are the big males?

Q:   What is the question you wish tourists would ask?

A:   I love it when they ask, “Why do they come here?”  This question opens it up for me to provide them with more of the history and almost extinction of the Northern Elephant Seal.

Q:   How many people do you guide/interact with on average? How many times per week/ per month do you volunteer as a docent?

A:   During the mating season I average over 100 interactions.  During molting season I average about 40 to 60 interactions.  I volunteer 3 to 4 times a month.

Q:   Why is your role as a docent so important in fulfilling the mission of the Friends of Elephant Seal? 

A:   Providing knowledge to visitors helps foster respect for wildlife and our environment.

Q:   What has been the most rewarding part of being a docent? 

A:   It’s really rewarding to talk to visitors from all over the world, and in return I get to learn about the wildlife in their part of 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 was founded?   

A:   Docents on the bluff was one of the most critical.  Knowledge is power! Adding the boardwalks and fencing help to delineate a line not to be crossed

Q:   What’s a secret fact about elephant seals that not many people know? Or something you wish more people knew? 

A:   Not many know that they were almost extinct around 1885.  The fact that we have over 25,000 Elephant Seals that call the Piedras Blancas Rookery their home is an amazing success story.

Q:   What else would you like to share about your role as a docent?

A:   It is a rewarding experience.  We get excellent training and are kept up-to-date on new data.  We also get to participate in the community by sharing information at public gatherings.  If you live in the SLO county area, please consider becoming a docent.