Northern Elephant Seal Rookery

Elephant Seals have inhabited the coast of Highway 1 for years, and they continue to be a famous stop while visitors are in the Cambria area. These ocean-going mammals spend eight to ten months a year in the open ocean, diving 1,000 to 5,000 feet deep for periods of fifteen minutes to two hours, and migrating thousands of miles, twice a year, to their 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 17,000 animals.

Elephant Seal Viewing Season

January: Females arrive, ready to give birth. Pupping season peaks at the end of the month.

February: Birthing winds down and weaning continues. Mating (and fighting/challenging) peaks around Valentine’s Day. Seals start to leave the beach at the end of the month.

March: The last of the adult elephant seals leave the beach. Pups who are weaned stay ashore, trying out their fins in shallow waters and fasting for 8-10 weeks.

April: Seals, mostly juveniles and females, start to arrive for the molt, when they grow new skin and hair. The newest generation of young finally leave the beach around this time.

May: Molting peaks at the beginning of this month, and finishes for females and juvenile elephant seals by its end. At the end of the molt, the seals return to the ocean.

June: Younger males start to arrive at the rookery to molt.

July: Molting continues for young and adult males.

August: All molting for males is complete. This is the month the rookery sees the fewest seals, but they are often the largest that remain.

September-October: The newest generation and juvenile seals arrive at the rookery. In October, the population on the beach hits another peak.

November: Juvenile and young seals beach at the rookery, primarily males. More mature bulls arrive closer to the end of the month.

December: As more and more bulls arrive, competition over birthing areas heats up. Breeding and birthing increase, with the first pup born around the middle of the month.

For more information, visit Highway 1 Discovery Route. 

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