Now is the time to make your way to the Central Coast of California and watch one of nature’s weird, spectacular and amazing events.
Thousands of northern elephant seals have made their 2500-mile swim from the north and north eastern Pacific to hang out on an exclusive California beach. It is the one time of the year (from January to February’s end) when the whole family can witness an elephant seal “family” together. Well, it’s not a family in our traditional sense, but hundreds of groups of one 16-foot, two-ton alpha male elephant seal with his harem of 20-50 female elephant seals and their pups.
This exclusive beach is the Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery, under the watchful eye of the California State Park system. It was once part of the famous Hearst Ranch until these mammoth beasts arrived in 1990 and eventually established a rookery that houses about 17,000 northern elephant seals throughout the year.
Safe and easily accessible, Piedras Blancas is the one single viewing sight where anyone can watch these marine mammals in action any time of the day and for free. There’s a parking lot, information kiosks, boardwalks, and even knowledgeable docents from Friends of the Elephant Seal eager to answer just about any question one might have about the elephant seal.
Piedras Blancas is not the only site where northern elephant seals haul out, but it is the most accessible.
About 4000 pups are born on the beach during this time. The mothers squawk at each other, the pups wail and screech, and the males-well, in most delicate terms-await the moment the females return to estrus. (Figure that Valentine’s Day is usually the day when most breeding occurs.)
If you arrive in March, you won’t be disappointed. Yes, the big fellas and the females will have left to return to their respective foraging grounds, but the pups, now called weaners, will entertain you as they teach themselves how to swim and dive. Weighing about 300 pounds each, they chase kelp, gulls, make endless ruckus between each other, and eventually turn into silver-coated, muscular seals that will leave their safe haven sometime in April and make their first foray to sea-not to return until about September.
Visit www.elephantseal.org for more information about the rookery located north of Hearst Castle out of the village San Simeon. The nearest lodging is available in San Simeon and Cambria.
Charmaine Coimbra has served as a docent for Friends of the Elephant Seal since 2008.