POINT REYES (KPIX 5) — The public has been given a rare chance to view the colony of elephant seals that has taken up residence at the Point Reyes National Seashore visitor center.

With 35 days of solitude because of the government shutdown, Drake’s Beach at the Pt. Reyes National Seashore became a perfect place for an elephant seal to give birth. Now, there are 52 pups joining the 53 cows and 10 males. Over the weekend, park officials experimented with allowing the public back in to see how man and beast would behave in close proximity.

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“This is a great opportunity for folks to see ‘em up close,” said Carlo Arreglo, a park ranger and naturalist. “We want to take advantage of that, but also keep the seals the pups safe.”

On Saturday, there was mating going on in the parking lot, but on Sunday, the seals seemed content to stay on the beach. With females weighing about 1,500 pounds and males up to 5,000 pounds, they didn’t seem stressed by the spectators. Eight-year-old Wesley Henderson thinks he knows why.

“One…they’re disguised as rocks,” he said, “and two…they just seem pretty calm.”

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The seals may seem calm–even lazy–but there is constant gamesmanship going on. The huge alpha male notices everything and is quick to charge, sending the other males hustling away to safety. And the females are covered in scars, a reminder to those watching of the brutality of nature, this time happening just a few yards away.

“It’s so primal,” said Novato resident Mary Thompson. “I mean, you see these amazing, huge beasts, you know, kind of slapping into each other and you can’t believe it’s like, I don’t know, 40 feet away or something. It’s incredible.”

Most of the pups are about two weeks old and will nurse for about 28 days. Then, their mothers will leave them and they will be on their own until they also leave sometime in March or April.

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More information about the public viewing of the elephant seals can be found here: www.nps.gov/pore