Elephant Seal is the largest seal in the northern hemisphere, the Northern Elephant Seal migrates to the rookery, twice each year. While offshore, the elephant seal spends eight to ten months diving up to 5,800 feet deep for up to two hours. The remaining months of the year, they m.ate, birth, m.ol.t, and rest onshore between trips.
The name elephant seal comes from the size of the male nose, which resembles an elephant’s trunk. This bulbous nose, called a proboscis, impresses other males who compete for female attention during mating season. It also sounds a loud call before an elephant seal fight or challenge. A male’s proboscis starts growing at about five years, and develops fully by nine years of age.
Elephant Seals haul out on beaches near San Simeon year round, as they go through different phases in their life cycle. In peak times, there are up to 17,000 animals on the San Simeon shores. There are three peak times of the year that have large populations of seals – January, April, and October.
Starting in November, adult male elephant seals start to arrive on the shore. Adult males will stake claim to female pupping areas on the beach. When another adult male challenges a pupping location, a f.ig.ht for dominance ensues. Adult males will f.ig.ht for m a.ting rights from December through January. Elephant seal bulls can reach 16 feet in length and weigh up to 5,000 pounds.
From December through March, female elephant seals arrive on the beach to give birth. Pregnant females begin to arrive in December with the majority of expecting mothers arriving in January. Now is the season for elephant seal mothers to be birthing pups. Pregnant females are still arriving at Piedras Blancas north of San Simeon to give birth to their pups. Births will typically occur a few days after arrival. Most pups are born at night, but daytime births are common and weigh about 60 pounds at birth and can weigh as much as 300 pounds at weaning. During the last week of nursing her pup (about 24 days), a female will mate with the alpha bull. Once she has mated, the female will typically go to sea and leave her pup behind. Pups are left alone to learn to swim and find food. High water th.r.eatens pups on the beach. They can swim, but lack the stamina to survive in the ocean. If washed out, skinny young pups without insulating blubber to keep them warm and buoyant can dr.own. Most pups are ready to depart for the sea in March and April.
The Piedras Blancas Rookery is the only elephant seal rookery in the world that is easily accessible, free, and open to the public every day of the year. No reservations are needed. Wear a mask and keep social distance.
Starting in April, females and juvenile elephant seals return to the sh.or.e to m.ol.t. The m.ol.ti.ng season lasts four to six weeks. Most females and juveniles are back in the water by the end of May. In June, subadult and adult males arrive to begin their m.ol.t. By August, the males have mostly completed with their m.o.lt. The shore has the least amount of animals in August. The majority of the animals seen in late summer are large adult males.