UC President Janet Napolitano got up close and personal this weekend with a colony of northern elephant seals and the scientists who study these marine mammals at the UC Natural Reserve System’s Año Nuevo Island Reserve.
In the midst of a storm serving up whitecaps and showers, the President and her guests met on the beach with UC researchers who have studied the seals for decades. Thousands of northern elephant seals gather at Año Nuevo Island Reserve each year to give birth, battle for mating rights, and breed.
Led by Professor Daniel P. Costa of UC Santa Cruz, scientists have worked to understand the animals’ transoceanic migration routes, adaptations for dives nearly a mile deep, and unique foraging strategies. Their work has pioneered the use of marine animals as oceanographic sensors, shed light on the limits of mammalian physiology, and lifted the veil over the movements of marine species from albatrosses to tuna.
The UC Natural Reserve System enables use of Año Nuevo Island Reserve, a site on the San Mateo coast, for research through an agreement with California State Parks. Año Nuevo Island and the other 38 reserves in the NRS provide scientists like Costa and his students with access to over 736,000 acres of protected natural areas in California for research and teaching.
The NRS has only grown in importance in the 50 years since it was founded due to the threat of climate change. In recognition of this role, President Napolitano provided a $1.9 million Research Catalyst Award this past December to study climate change impacts at NRS reserves across California.