It’s elephant seal breeding season on the coast of California, an exciting natural phenomenon that’s iconic to our state. Northern elephant seals inhabit the waters from Baja California, Mexico to the Gulf of Alaska and the Aleutian Islands. They generally breed from December to March at Point Reyes, Año Nuevo, the Channel Islands and Piedras Blancas.
Drakes Beach at Point Reyes will be hosting up to 600 seals through March, which may be viewed from the Drakes Beach parking lot.
Most beaches at Point Reyes, including Drakes Beach, are closed to the public from December 15 through March 31 so as to protect elephant seal pups during breeding season. This is also to protect members of the public from the ferocious male seals, which weigh between 3,300-5,100 pounds and measure between 13-16 feet long.
Check the NPS website for updates on closures through the season.
You may find elephant seals at Point Reyes throughout the year, but it’s between December and March that they really take over the beaches. The adult males (known as “bulls”) arrive first so as to stake a claim and engage in bloody fights with each other to establish dominance. They are enormous, violent, and recognizable for their characteristic nose, which resembles an elephant’s trunk.
Pregnant adult females, known as “cows,” arrive shortly afterwards and give birth to the pups, or “weaners,” they’ve been carrying since the previous year. Newborn seals weigh about 75 pounds and are 4 feet long.
At Drakes Beach, you may witness male dominance contests, birthing of pups, mating, and other fascinating behavior. No reservation is required and personnel will be there to aid in safe elephant seal viewing.
We’re quite lucky to have the chance to view these magnificent animals today. They were hunted almost to extinction for their blubber, which was used for lamp oil. In 1910, their population was estimated at under 100, but their numbers have now rebounded to upwards of 150,000. 124,000 or so are found in California waters.
Point Reyes is spectacular on its own even without the elephant seals, so be sure to take a trip up the coast for incredible views and a breath of fresh air. Drakes Beach and others will open back up when elephant seal season finishes in April.
Featured image: @jacquie_quale via Instagram