In the winter months at the mouth of the Russian River near Jenner, CA on the Sonoma Coast the harbor seals gather. You need to keep your distance, especially when they begin to pup in March. But in January and February with a 400 mm lens you are able to get off some really nice shots.
Harbor seals spend their entire lives along the same stretch of coastline. They spend many hours during low tide hauled out on a favorite sandbar, beach or rocky island soaking in the warm sunshine. You need to keep your distance because harbor seals are the most vulnerable when out of the water and will quickly swim off if you get too close.
Sitting and waiting for them to put their heads up now and again is helpful when doing a single seal or a portrait. These two seals put their head up and looked in my direction because others were approaching on the beach. If the seals are watching you from their haul-out area, you’re too close.
In the massive group it isn’t too bad to have them all sacked out. This particular morning the seagulls were out in force because of something they were feeding on in the river water as it meet the ocean (or visa versa – I am not quite sure). You can keep going back to your same locations because the harbor seal haul out in the same place year after year.
I choose these two shots from the same day this past week because of the use of a rather wide angle (28 mm) and a long lens. Winter sun is still pretty low in the sky at 9 AM. So the whole scene wasn’t washed out. I used a polarizing filter to keep the glare off the seals and hold the color in the blue sky. Of course I needed to find an angle that put me at least at a 60 degree angle from the sun.
OTHER locations to see harbor seals include: Lake Earl Wildlife Area, Patrick’s Point State Park, MacKerricher State Park, Sonoma State Beach, San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge, San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Elkhorn Slough Ecological Reserve, Montana de Oro State Park, Carpenteria State Beach, Crystal Cove State Park.