Point Lobos SR
Narrated by Point Lobos Natural History Association


At Point Lobos, people have become a part of the landscape, and not a bad part either.

We’re tolerated and largely ignored by the local residents, and maybe that’s the way it should be.

The greatest meeting of land and sea in the world.

That is a bold statement, but to the landscape artist Francis McCombis, Point Lobos was much more than just a place.

From its protected coves to its storm washed headlands and rocky promontories, there was something very special about this place.

Birds seek the isolation of island rookeries.

Anchored and wrapped by kelp farms, sea otters sleep in the calm waters of coves.

Harbor Seals nurse their young on sandy shores.

Below, tide pools swarm with life.

Scouring the surface for food, gulls ride incoming waves.

Above, pelicans ride the winds.
Offshore, the barking of hundreds of Sea Lions inspired Spanish explorers to name this Punto de los lobos del mar (Point of the Sea Wolves).
Here, the convoluted coastline of bluffs, coves, islands and bays, meet meadows and Cypress groves.

South of Point Lobos, the mountains of the Santa Lucia range plunge into the Pacific, along with Big Sur coast.

To the north, the broad sandy arc of Monterey Bay lies at the edge of deep submarine canyon that leads to the depths of the ocean.

In between, is the Monterey Peninsula, and just south of the Carmel River, a rocky outcrop of land, Point Lobos.

Point Lobos State Reserve is protected. A vital park of the California State Park’s system.

Though parks are for people, preservation comes first at Point Lobos.

Beyond its natural beauty, what makes Point Lobos so unique is its diversity.

Several very different habitats meet here, and life abounds.

Offshore, the rich marine life surrounding Point Lobos was designated at the first marine reserve in the nation in 1960, and a national marine sanctuary in the 1990’s.

The deep waters of the open sea come close to Point Lobos in the Carmel Submarine Canyon.

This is the domain of deep water pelagic fish,
and Grey Whales.

The new shore environment is especially rich in life.

Marine mammals, such as Sea Lions and Harbor Seals live off the wealth of life found here.

In the relatively shallow underwater realm of the kelp forest, numerous small fish and invertebrates find shelter.

Sea Otters live much of their lives in and around kelp beds.

The surf and inter-tidal zone is one of the most demanding environments of all.

Only specially adapted organisms can survive a life in between the land and sea.

A life tested by the brutal power of crashing waves.

This habitat is stalked by numerous predators, both above and below the ever changing waterline.

On land, the low ground hugging plants and dense shrubs of Chaparral survive the onslaught of winds, salt spray and desiccating sunlight.

Moist well-watered middle lands are rare enclaves for the native grasses of the northern coastal prairie.

The gnarled weather-beaten limbs of Monterey Cypress groves defy time and the elements.

Among the rarest of trees, the isolated Cypress groves are a living link with the past, and are related to trees that lived at the dawn of the age of dinosaurs.

Dominating much of the landscape, are forests of Monterey Pine, providing nesting spots for birds, shade for forest plants, food for mushrooms, and cover for deer.

But people are also a part of the Point Lobos environment, and they have been for thousands of years.

Native Americans, the Alonees, ventured to Point Lobos to gather food.

Abalone, mussel shells and fire blackened earth mark their campsites.

Spanish ranchers, Chinese fishermen, and Portuguese whalers followed, all leaving their separate imprints on the land.

By 1900, Whaler’s Cove was home to Japanese abalone fishermen, and across the cove a large abalone cannery.

Hollywood has left its own legacy.

Point Lobos has been seen around the world as a backdrop for motion pictures.

Though little evidence of the elaborate sets now remains, except on film.

The geology of this place is what sets the stage for Hollywood and for all that we see.

The sheltering coves, the rocky headlands, and the earthquake faults that break the bedrock.

In fact, this entire stretch of coastline is a small sliver of the Pacific Plate moving northwest.

It is a journey that began millions of years ago, and over a thousand miles to the south in the sub-tropics.

The oldest rocks at Point Lobos and this part of the California coast, were formed over one hundred million years ago when dinosaurs walked the earth.

These rocks cooled far below the earth’s surface, possibly miles below when they were forming.

Hot magma rising from its source deep below the crust never reached the surface and slowly cooled in its underground prison to become a hard granite like rock known as granodiorite.

Today, the fault fractured bluffs and headlands of granodiorite still resist erosion.

Just to the north of Point Lobos, the submarine Carmel Canyon descends to depths of thousands of feet.

A tributary at the underwater canyon ends near Blue Fish Cove.

Far offshore, the depths of the Pacific harbor a mysterious unseen and mostly uncharted world.

Deep diving submersibles occasionally penetrate the darkness of this alien environment.

Lifting with currents, bioluminescent jelly fish light up the darkness.

The large tentacle jellies thrive in nutrient rich waters.

The open sea is the domain of schools of Mackerel.

And large pelagic sharks.

Where the North American Continent and Ocean meet is an underwater highway.

The route was pioneered, untold generations ago, by brave whales.

In their vast north and south migrations, they cruise coastal waters off in several miles offshore.

If there was anything close to an underwater sign post for whales, Point Lobos is it.

Point Lobos is one of the closest places that Grey Whales approach the mainland coast of California.

Portuguese whalers realized this, and beginning in 1862, used Point Lobos as a shore based whaling station.

Rowing from Whaler’s Cove in 30 foot long boats, they harpooned whales and towed them back for processing at the Tri-works.

Hot fires burning under large cast iron kettles rendered strips of whale blubber into whale oil.

Whaling in the 1800’s decimated the whale populations and threatened several species with extinction.

It wasn’t until the 1880’s with the introduction of the kerosene lamp and petroleum based lubricants that the demand for whale oil diminished.

Other than humans, most whales face only one real predator, Orcas, killer whales.

Killer whales are the largest member of the dolphin family, highly intelligent, and at the very top of the food chain.

Herring, Salmon, Seals, Grey Whales, and even giant hump backs are among their prey.

Ocean currents and prevailing winds create an upwelling of deep cold nutrient rich water that supports an amazing web of life.

In the near shore marine habitat, the variety of species explodes.

California Sea Lions are among the most visible of the marine mammals.

Large, gregarious and loud, their barking calls can easily be heard on Sea Lion rocks.

They congregate on islands and rocks, places that have afforded sea lion colonies security in the past.

In early summer, mature males leave Point Lobos and head south to breeding grounds in the Channel Islands off southern California.

Underwater, Sea Lions are agile, powerful and fast swimmers, and able to out swim almost all of their prey.

Porpoising like dolphins to escape water resistance, they have been clocked at speeds up to 35 miles per hour.

On land, unlike many other marine mammals, sea lions are fairly mobile.

Their flippers pivot and afford them enough maneuverability to climb high upon rocks, keeping them out of harms way in the heavy surf of winter.

No matter what season, dry relatively flat real estate is valuable.

Sea Lions stake out and raucously defend their territory.

On the rocks, size, aggressiveness, and the ability to bluff and bluster, count.

Though they have thick insulated fat layers, Sea Lions enjoy the warmth of a sunny day.

The have voracious appetites, but with the wealth of food along the central coast, they have what could best be termed, free time.

Harbor Seals are year round residents of Point Lobos.

In calm weather they often drape the rocks in Moss Cove.

Though just off shore, the rocks afford them security from predators.

Mothers nurse their pups on the rocks.

And the pups get to know their neighbors.

With about 50 percent fat content in mother’s milk, Harbor Seal pups gain weight quickly.

Within six weeks they are weaned and on their own.

The kelp beds surrounding Point Lobos are essential nurseries for Sea Otters.

No other marine mammal was more closely identified with or more depended on the kelp forests.

Until 1911, Southern Sea Otters were hunted mercilessly for their fine soft pelts.

They were generally thought to be extinct, until in the 1930’s a small remnant population of fewer than 50 otters was discovered in an isolated stretch of the Big Sur coast.

Under the protection of law, it appears that Southern Sea Otters are making a comeback.

Members of the weasel family, Sea Otters are most closely related to lithe and long-tailed River Otters.

Instead of blubber for insulation, Sea Otters rely on dense fur and a very high metabolism to keep warm.

Grooming is vital, mothers are particularly careful when grooming their offspring, if the coat is permeated by cold water the pup can die of hypothermia.

Mothers spend hours grooming, bonding and just playing with their pups.

Communicating with sharp barks and cries, mother and pup maintain contact with each other.

Sea Otters seldom come ashore. Anchored by kelp farms, otters sleep fitfully, always weary of intruders.

Several may raft together on these floating hotels of dense kelp fronds.

Cleaver, fast, and curious by nature, Sea Otters are also equipped with razor sharp teeth and grasping paws that enable them to capture or find loose prey from the bottom.

Some of the invertebrates they eat have hard shells. Using rocks, they smash the shells while casually floating on their backs.

Today, Point Lobos draws people from all around the world.

They come to photograph in the foot steps of great photographers.

To paint a different canvas, and to be a part of a timeless place.

Here, life goes on virtually undisturbed by our presence.

Point Lobos State Reserve is a working example of what conservation can provide, protected habitats for animals in the environment and places for people as well.