The Northern Elephant Seal, Mirounga angustirostris, is an extraordinary marine mammal. It spends eight to ten months a year in the open ocean, diving 1000 to 5000 feet deep for periods of fifteen minutes to two hours, and migrating thousands of miles, twice a year, to its land based rookery for birthing, breeding, molting and rest.
The Piedras Blancas rookery, on Highway 1 seven miles north of San Simeon on the California Central Coast, is home to about 15,000 animals. The area is open for viewing every day of the year and there is no admission fee or reservation required.
Quote from “Friends of the Elephant Seal”
Last night, Fiona and her Tall American on Moonstone Beach, highly recommended an observation stopover at the Piedras Blancas rookery to watch the Elephant Seals. Suckers for wildlife, we didn’t need much encouragement, so after our hasty snaps of the Harmony cows, we headed along Moonstone Beach, past Hearst Castle and turned off to the rookery.
From a distance it was difficult to tell the seals from the rocks. Both were as still and immovable as each other. Every now and then, a seal would flick a twitchy flipper to dust it’s body with sand. The male Elephant seals were immense, but while they were basking on the beach, you really didn’t get the full effect of their size.
But when they moved, they certainly made their presence known. These males supported their hefty bodies on razor-thin front flippers; arched their bull-necks until their eyes were facing backwards; and let out a blood curdeling sound that vibrated their nose flaps with comical effect. You definitely don’t mess with this beast. At the same time he’s both grotesque but magnificent.
Birthing Season December to March
We were lucky to be visiting at the beginning of birthing season, and dotted around the beach were small seal cubs with darker coats huddled close to their mothers. Not to be outdone by the males, pregnant females took it in turns to bark into oblivion, as if they were vocalizing their impatience at their pregnant condition and the desire for their labour to be over. Or maybe stern words at the males for getting them into this condition in the first place.
It was a mesmerizing sight, and what I thought would be a quick 10 minute stop for a few hasty photographs, became a 45 minute observation of majestic beasts in their natural habitat. If you’re in the neighbourhood – not to be missed.
More Information from the Friends of the Elephant Seal:
The Friends of the Elephant Seal support the seal rookery at Piedras Blancas, on California highway 1 at the southern end of Big Sur on the California coast, twelve miles north of Cambria and four miles north of the entrance to the Hearst Castle.
The location is ideal for the seals: it is protected by the Piedras Blancas point from storms from the northwest; it has wide, sandy beaches offering pups protection from high water; and it is protected from predators by a kelp forest.
The weather at Piedras Blancas is almost always reasonable for viewing although the wind can, at times, be quite brisk and warm attire is recommended. Click for weather, highway, marine weather, and San Simeon Tides information.