Where Has All the Carrion Gone, Again?

19 July 2007


A revisit to the beach which inspired the original, barely readable, post (Where Has All the Carrion Gone?) proved again that the Lost Coast, south of Pt. Mendocino CA is a great place to die. Or at least a great place to have your carcass wash up.

Shortly after we began on the trail, half a dozen Turkey Condors (Cathartes aura) came winging low over the dunes struggling against the head wind. Eventually they caught bluff drafts that flung them into the sky like dirt clods from a slingshot.

Undoubtedly, they had been gorging on the rotting Elephant Seal corpse pictured above. An ominous chunk missing from seal’s back end hints at the cause of this pinniped’s demise. Think duh-nuh, duh-nuh, duh-nuh…

Hiking with the dogs, we didn’t dare approach the remains, although I imagine stench would have probably kept us from getting too much closer anyway. Despite being a spectacular sight, the Elephant Seal was hardly the only piece of carrion we came across.

That’s a young Mule Deer (Odocoileus hemionus) with the skin on the forequarters turned halfway inside-out. No clue on the cause of death on this one, but judging from the footprints, it too has received some post-mortem attention, probably from dogs (not ours thankfully) or perhaps coyote.

Of course neither the scavengers, nor the scavengees, were exclusively vertebrates. Strolling the strandline at the top of the Lost Coast is like walking along a farmer’s market: here a crimson crab carapace, there a softball-sized urchin test, and over there the head of what might have been a ling cod in better days.

This was one of many Gumboot Chitons (Cryptochiton stelleri) we found. Unlike most other chitons, Gumboots hide the eight bony plates underneath a layer of flesh. The shell is just beginning to wear through on this one. Remind me to write about Georg Steller someday…

When I flipped this one over I found a colony of unfamiliar insects, (perhaps beetle larvae?) happily munching away. If you know who these guys are let me know!


It wasn’t strictly death and decay along the coast. We saw (live!) Harbor Seals, gulls and shorebirds of various stripes, Brown Pelicans, sea stars, anemones, barnacles, limpets, crabs, bees, flies, a Ten-Lined June Beetle and even a couple of humans. This little back-swimming isopod (Idotea sp.) was positively animated.


Photo Jessica Oster

If you haven’t had enough fetid corpses, go check out Carel’s recent necroblitz along a road in eastern Utah. He didn’t come across any elephant seals, but he bested my venison count by three. Them’s is good eatin’.

3 Responses to “Where Has All the Carrion Gone, Again?”

  1. Carel Says:

    Leave it to you, Neil, to have the guts to follow Dean Amadon’s lead and use the name “Turkey Condor.” So nice to see that in print. Good show, Man!

  2. Neil Says:

    My father (more than 1/2 joking) always used to call them ‘Pozo’ Turkey Condors. But really, shouldn’t we call a spade a spade?

  3. […] Apologies for the subliterate turn, sadly it’s not the first time.  It’s metaphorical.  It’s a coping mechanism.  My lease on blogging is neither new […]

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