Lessons from Año Nuevo State Park

On land, they’re loud (perhaps because they’re earless) and ungainly creatures. Their immense size and weight (bulls can grow up to 16 ft long and weigh up to 5,500 lbs–more than an SUV!) make them appear graceless.

Kirby Science 7 students visit the Año Nuevo State Park and observe northern elephant seals in their largest mainland breeding colony and learn that there is more to them than blubber and barking.

Science 7 learns about organisms through evolution, studying structure in order of complexity. They dissect an organism a week; looking inside everything from flowers to frogs. A trip to Año Nuevo offers students an opportunity to observe and learn about mammals in an important life cycle.

Over the 3 mile path guided by park docents, students view hundreds of elephant seal pups on the beach alone. This is the season when cows dutifully provide about 28 days of nourishment and then leave their pups to literally sink or swim. They don’t teach them to hunt.

The beaches are covered with whining pups, the rising message in each: hunger. Without a food source, or guidance on how to find food, pups face survival solo.

To students, the pups’ reality sounded harsh, but for northern elephant seals, that’s life. Students observe first hand how trial and error has positive outcomes. As pups fight on the beach, they develop skills to hunt. As pups fall into large puddles and emerge after time, they learn how to hold their breath (which they can do for up to 100 minutes!).

Trial and error is a useful way to learn and is aligned with the scientific process. Failure, perseverance, resilience, and adaptation are important lessons for all mammals…including humans. Here at Kirby, teachers strive daily to impart opportunities for students to continuously grown and develop these and other life skills.