Welcome in the New Year by Getting Outside: Explore the Wildlife of West Marin

January in Marin. Here we go again, all together now. Our county’s collective yo-yo, stop-start approach to self-improvement is in full swing. Issues we’ll be tackling range from weight loss and cutting out carbs to mastering meditation, finances and more. If you think about it, these intentions could actually be an evolved human behavior — we tend to tweak and adjust at this time of year.  

Speaking of species-specific qualities (and a way to get away from the fridge), might I suggest checking in with our local wildlife this year. January in Marin can mean brilliant blue skies and with a day to fill, head to West Marin. When we were raising our kids, my husband and I would pack up the car with snacks, a change of shoes (mud is inevitable) and ample amounts of fleece to try to catch a glimpse of our animal friends. Not only was it a thrill to catch sight of a migrating whale, but also getting out in nature is a good reminder that there is something vastly bigger happening in our world besides carbs versus keto.

If you are new to Marin, here are some pro tips from an old timer. Head west! First stop: Point Reyes Lighthouse, where you can look for the distant splashes of one or two of the thousands of California gray whales that pass by and frolic along our coast en route to the warm waters of Baja. 

Point Reyes Lighthouse
Point Reyes Lighthouse.

While you’re out there, check in on the nearby elephant seals, which have experienced a beautiful resurgence in the past few decades. Starting in December, you can spot huge males staking claim on south-facing beaches of the Point Reyes Headlands. The females will show up next to birth their pups, which are about the size of an adult German shepherd. Within seven years, they can grow (if they don’t become a meal to a shark or killer whale) to be the size of a minivan. Do they care about their carbs? Not a chance. Blubber equals survival, and they strut their beach bodies con gusto!

On an adventure this fall with my daughter, a former volunteer at the Marine Mammal Center, she informed me that the clump of seals we were looking at were born here at these beaches, and after eight to 10 months of a solo existence in the depths of the Pacific, they return to sleep for up to 30 days. “They don’t eat or drink so there’s no … smell.” Wow! And I thought my five-day ProLon fast was a challenge. My suggestion that they were snuggling because they were lonely, resulted in a sharp eye roll, “Doubt it,” she said, “the pileup is actually called ‘thigmotaxis,’ and researchers aren’t sure why this happens, but it’s not snuggling.” 

Another awesome (as in you’ll be in awe once you see them) attraction is the tule elk, found only in California. This particular herd is all descended from 10 individuals reinstated here in the late 1970s. Since then, the population has grown, (however this was a devastating summer for them, where many died due to lack of water). Controversy aside, there are various efforts underway working to protect these grand grazers. Let’s hope they will continue to thrive indefinitely. 

Leo T Cronin Fish Viewing Area at Samuel P. Taylor State Park
Leo T Cronin Fish Viewing Area at Samuel P. Taylor State Park.

Speaking of bouncing back, our native Coho salmon are another attraction to add to your list. It’s thanks to local groups like SPAWN, which has been actively involving the community for over 20 years to help restore watershed habitat and bring these beautiful fish back to their spawning grounds, including the Leo T Cronin Fish Viewing Area, Samuel P. Taylor State Park, Roy’s Riffles (Roy’s Dam) and Redwood Creek, just south of the Muir Woods Park entrance. (Visit seaturtles.org for myriad volunteer opportunities.)

Did I miss one of your wildlife viewing favorites? Please let us know and we can add it to our list. Better yet, if you’re involved with a group that helps protect any of our creatures here in Marin and needs volunteers, please send us a letter and we’ll print it in a future issue.  

More from Marin:

Mimi TowleMimi Towle has been the editor of Marin Magazine for over a decade and is currently the Editor at Large at Make it Better Media. She lived with her family in Sycamore Park and Strawberry and thoroughly enjoyed raising two daughters in the mayhem of Marin’s youth sports; soccerswimvolleyballballethip hopgymnastics and many many hours spent at Miwok Stables. Her community involvements include volunteering at her daughter’s schools, coaching soccer and volleyball (glorified snack mom), being on the board of both Richardson Bay Audubon Center and then The EACH Foundation. Currently residing on a floating home in Sausalito, she enjoys all water activity, including learning how to steer a 6-person canoe for the Tamalpais Outrigger Canoe Club. Born and raised in Hawaii, her fondness for the islands has on occasion made its way into the pages of the magazine. If you want more, she’s created a website, LocalGetaways.com.