Why I Wrote “Isu Learns to Swim”

The award-winning manuscript, “Isu Learns to Swim,” is an excellent addition to marine eduction for young people. It’s a fictional story based on fact about how the amazing northern elephant seal begins the first months of its life. Unlike many other mammals, a northern elephant seal pup is on its own after about four weeks of nursing. This is when the pup’s mother leaves it behind and returns to the sea. This story tells, in the most simple of terms, of how an abandoned four-week old seal survives without an ounce of survival skills, including the ability to swim.

VISIT ISU’S OFFICIAL PAGE:  ISU LEARNS TO SWIM.   Contact me for school and library special pricing for the paperback edition.


When the beach house in Central California was no longer a dream but a reality, my gratitude for that gift was immense. Putting that gratitude to work, I interviewed and was accepted to serve as a volunteer docent for Friends of the Elephant Seal (FES) near San Simeon, CA.

The first time I saw a northern elephant seal was on a road romp heading south on Highway 1 from Big Sur.

“STOP THE CAR!” I yelped when from the corner of my eye I saw the most odd looking thing ever, lounging about the beachside sand dunes that followed Highway 1’s edges.

Spouse maneuvered the car to the roadside. We hopped out, looked at each other and said, “What the hell is it?” Both of us native Californians who let the California sun fry our youthful skin back when we each hung out at any available California beach, never did figure out what those enormous, weird looking creatures were.

“What the hell is it?” This is what Isu will eventually grow into–an approximate 5000 pound northern elephant seal.

That’s probably why I signed up to become a FES volunteer. And did I ever learn! I jokingly called the weeks’ long workshops for new volunteers, E-Seal U.

The educators were so inspiring, that not only did I take to standing out in the wind, rain, and sun at the Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery (now a California State Park), it turned around my interests into a passion of how our oceans are the starting point for much of what goes on Planet Earth. (See http://www.neptune911.com)

Northern elephant seals (NES) are really more weird than most other marine mammals. They migrate from roughly the Bering Strait and the north Pacific twice a year to mostly California beaches mainland and islands, and northern Baja California islands. The topography of the beach must be just so. The first haul out is to shed their fur (and rest and regain their muscle tone); then they mosey on back to give birth and breed on the beach.

I’ll refrain from the details because that’s not the purpose of today’s blog. The purpose is to share why I wrote a children’s book, “Isu Learns to Swim,” now available on Kindle, and soon available on Amazon in paperback.

In the early spring when the adult NES leave the beach and the pups are left behind, these vulnerable little guys (300-600 pounds) have zero survival skills. Fortunately, all that fat keeps them going until they finally teach themselves how to swim and dive in order to make their first trip to sea so that they can eat.

The newborn Isu with his mother.

Now as a docent when explaining this, visitors are horrified. “How can a mother just leave her baby behind?” “This is nature at its most cruel?” and so on. But not really, most of the pups who are weaned from their mother’s milk, survive this time alone on the beach. That’s why I wrote about Isu who has to learn how to swim.

The manuscript took a Writer’s Digest award. But like so many of my book ideas, I let it go fallow in the manuscript field of my Mac. A month ago, it came to me that is just plain silly.

Fat weaner
Isu at about 4-weeks old. Looks like he gained a few pounds!

My prayer is that the book can be used by parents and teachers as part of a marine education plan for young children — even inlanders. It’s the story of something amazing that goes on here on Planet Earth.

Sadly, I had to forgo my volunteer time with FES. My left knee that bore the brunt of a rather nasty fall while I was snow skiing outside of Santa Fe, NM, just didn’t appreciate the NES and my love of informally educating the thousands of visitors curious about the most odd looking thing ever, lounging about the beachside sand dunes that followed Highway 1’s edges.

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