Page 51 - SLO Visitors Guide - Winter 2021-2022
P. 51

Cambria, San Simeon, North Coast
Thousands of elephant seals are heading to the beaches
 Peak viewing season arrives!
Northern elephant seals (Mir- ounga angustirostris) occupy the beaches along the north coast year around, but the peak times are January, April, and October when as many as 20,000 animals are on the beaches. The highest concentra- tion is at the Piedras Blancas rook- ery from December to March when females (called cows) give birth. Different groups return at different times of the year, mainly to molt.
Between September and November, most of the seals on the beaches are juveniles, followed by the bulls that start arriving in November to stake out territory. The cows come ashore in mid-De- cember to give birth and breed.
Bulls battle for mating rights through January. Fortunately, those battles are primarily dominance posturing when the bulls rise as
tall as half of their 16-foot length, crashing together in bellowing, roaring, 10,000 pound chest-bumps (each weighing in at around 5000 pounds). Sometimes actual bloody fights take place, resulting in the losers hauling back to sea to find
a safer beach to heal their wounds and restore their courage.
Every now and then fights break out between females who challenge each other for the spaces they hold on the beach. Pups, born within
a few days after the cow arrives, weigh about 60 pounds and grow rapidly due to the cow’s nutrient rich milk. Cows nurse their pups about 24 days, mating during the last week of nursing. After mating, she returns to the ocean, leaving her pup to learn to swim and find food. Pups are ready for their own journeys in March and April.
Back from near extinction
Hunted to near extinction for blubber and oil during the 18th
slovisitorsguide.com
and 19th centuries, these fascinat- ing animals have returned from
a population of only 50 to over
150,000. The largest population is in California with breeding colo- nies from Baja to British Columbia,
four of those in California. Elephant seals started populat-
ing the beach of Northern Elephant
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