Enchanting Elephant Seals of Piedras Blancas

Moonstone Beach will forever have a place in our hearts. However, the call of the dramatic famous Big Sur coastlines were far too strong and realistically we were scheduled to spend the night at the Holiday Inn Express Monterey-Cannery Row. Indeed time to move on! If this is your first time joining us on our California Dreaming adventures, do catch up on our Moonstone Beach adventures and day trips to the Paso Robles wineries and Morro Bay. A flock of pelicans were flying happily above our heads, creating our most memorable farewell to Moonstone Beach.

NOTE: Highway 1–Full Closure Continues 17 Miles North of San Simeon at Ragged Point due to the Failure of the Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge. The earliest reopening is currently projected to be June 2018. Check Official CA Central Coast alert website prior to your travels. Also, check Friends of the Elephant Seal website for an alternative route to the rookery.

If you love to watch the northern elephant seals from just a few feet away, do read on. It is fairly easy to spot the rookery from the car. Barely 15 min’s drive away from Moonstone Beach, we had arrived at the dirt parking lot of the Elephant Seals Rookery at Piedras Blancas, San Simeon. If you wish to find your bearing, this California State Beach is located between Cambria and Monterey on California Highway 1. The nearest point of interest is the majestic Hearst Castle. Bring a jacket as the winds can be rather chilly. Sunscreen and flat shoes are advisable too for your boardwalks and trails adventure. Do be aware that there are no restrooms available. It’s also illegal to use drones and model aircrafts at the rookery. The viewing areas are open daily with free admission. For a more in-depth tour, the Friends of the Elephant Seals, a not-for-profit organisation, offers free presentations and guided tours of the rookery at certain times of the year. For the full calendar of events scheduled for 2017, do visit this Exploratorys link.

Hundreds of elephant seals as far as my eyes could see!!

Why did the elephant seals choose this spot? Since the 1990, the northern elephant seals had frequented Piedras Blancas. They enjoy large sandy beaches with no significant human presence. The pups can learn to swim in the shallow waters and the rocks will protect these young ones from the breakers. The shallowness of the sea bed also means that shark attacks will be relatively uncommon. Sometimes baby seals can be found sleeping on a bed of kelp. The kelp forests are not far off shore.

At the end of May, there were at least two hundred adult female and juvenile northern elephant seals (Mirounga Augustirostris) sunbathing on the beach. Its name is derived from its size and the male’s large trunk-like nose (proboscis). Males also has a chest shield, an area of thickened scarred skin on its neck, chest and shoulders. Males can grow up to 4 – 5m in length and 1400 -2300 kg in weight whereas the females are much smaller in size by comparison at 2.5 – 4m in length and 400 – 800 kg in weight. What about the pups? The pups are 1 m in length at birth and weighs about 32 kg. With the help of GPS signals, we now know that the northern elephant seals can travel as far as 4800 km from the rookery.

It’s so lovely to watch these elephant seals play in their natural environment

These northern elephant seals will spend eight to ten months each year in the open sea and make two round trips ashore for pupping and mating season (winter), and to molt and grow new fur (in the late spring and early summer). Juveniles who are too young for the pupping and mating season can be seen returning to the rookery between Sept- Dec. Do visit a very informative ‘What’s Happening Now’ Calendar with beautiful pictures on the Friends of the Elephant Seals website.

😃Seal 1 – ‘I’ll trade my lunch for your spot!’ 🤓Seal 2 – ‘Ohhh…just come around next to me, let’s share… Unless you’re too lazy to move? 😆…Ahem… Bring your lunch too! 😉’

Now try to spot the fundamental flaw in my Instagram seals Chit Chat post, inspired by the featured image! The seals actually fast for that entire period spent ashore (apart from the nursing pups of course?!)  and when resting, they do not breathe much of the time. All in the name of conserving water and energy.

Whilst at the open sea, the long webbed feet of this graceful swimmer will aid propulsion through the water. Another amazing feat worth noting is that these elephant seals can also expertly dive 300 – 900 m under water. These enchanting creatures are capable of remaining in the deep sea for an average of 25 min before coming up to the surface to breathe for 2 -3 min. When feeding, these seals employ a grab and swallow method, feasting on hake, dogfish, rays, octopus and crabs. The females love to eat small bio-luminiscent creatures such as squid and lanternfish. The natural predators of male seals are orcas who frequent the deeper waters.  If you are still curious about these adorable creatures, do check out the FAQ section on The Friends of the Seals website.

Hope you’ve also learnt to fall in love with these beautiful elephant seals. We love every second of our half an hour at this rookery. Thank you for reading my ‘Message in a Bottle’, and I hope you are inspired to visit the Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery. Until we meet again on another Californian adventure, do take care and have a wonderful day!



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