Año Nuevo State Reserve
Año Nuevo State Reserve is bustling with life in late winter. Northern Elephant Seals gather here to mate, give birth and molt their skin. Upwards of 10,000 individuals can be found here each year in one of the largest rookeries on the west coast. This image shows a crowded beach on Año Nuevo Island, just offshore, home to a deserted lighthouse and fog station from the 19th century.
The species was on the brink of extinction a little over a century ago due to hunting. They were even officially recognized as being extinct until a small population was found off the Mexican coast.
Often successful species recovery stories require complicated habitat restoration, food chain preservation and intensive captive breeding programs. In this case, however, all the seals needed was to stop being slaughtered for the oil in their blubber. Once protected, they have recovered immensely all by themselves and now over 100,000 seals occur up and down the shores of the Pacific Ocean. That number is growing at a healthy rate each year.