Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Day Trip, Hwy 1 - State Beach to the Elephant Seals

On Monday's day trip, our ultimate destination was just north of Hearst Castle to see the Elephant Seals.  Once we had finished our picnic at the W.R. Hearst State Beach, it was just a short 4 mile drive North on Hwy 1 to the Piedras Blancas viewing area.  We had driven up from Pismo Beach in Sept. 2008 to see the seals and we wanted to see them again.

This time of year is the birthing and breeding season.  The bulls (male seals) began arriving on the beach in late November and early December.  They want to get an early start on claiming their beach territory so they can plan for their harem.  The females begin arriving soon after the bulls and the first births take place in mid-December.  During January the females are still arriving and the peak of the birthing season will run until mid-month. 

Since we did not come to the Piedras Blancas viewing area until mid-February, we knew the pups would have grown considerably already.  We'll come back again early next year in January to see the pups when they will be smaller.  There is a great public viewing area where you can see the seals clearly from a safe distance up on the bluff overlooking the beach. 

Here are the seals sunning themselves. (click on photos for larger view)
You can see from this photo that there were a lot of folks observing the seal population.  There is a large parking area, off the highway, for visitors.  The viewing platform is very sturdy and there are no steps.  It is easy for walkers or motorized scooter-mobiles to navigate along the entire route.
The Elephant Seals return here each year after their long journey to Alaska.  They go north to those colder waters to forage for food to bulk up as they will fast for several months.  As the females arrive, they locate a comfortable spot on the beach to birth their pups.  They give birth to one pup, usually within a week of arriving.  The pups weigh between 60 and 80 pounds. 

The pups nurse for about 4 weeks and then the mothers begin the weaning process.  No sooner has she weaned her pup, when the mating season begins all over again.  Sheesh!  Can't a girl get a break???

After the mating season, the female leaves the beach and swims out to sea.  The pup must now fend for himself and after 8 to 10 weeks he has taught himself to swim and he, also, will head out to sea for the migration north to Alaska.
The bulls, when full grown, will weigh two tons or more.  They are the ones with the huge elephant trunk looking nose, from which they have been named.  While we were watching, 2 bulls had a bellowing contest.  Most likely one of them was trying to protect his spot of beach from the other fella.

The viewing platform also has a couple of extensions that jut out further over the cliff for better picture taking opportunities. 
We enjoyed getting a chance to see the pups lying with their mothers.  There were so many of them.  As you watch, you can see all of the seals take a flipper, from time to time, and use it to toss sand up on their bodies.  This is done to cool them off as they lie in the sun. 

If you are interesting in more information on these interesting creatures, check out this website

Until next long for now!


Gypsy said...

Those seals look about as lazy as my dog, Lady! She would love to sleep on the beach in the sun all day.

KarenInTheWoods and Steveio said...

Very cool pics of those interesting creatures. Thanks for sharing!

What fun!

Karen and Steve

Rick and Paulette said...

Very interesting, Margie and great pics of those elephant seals. That's another spot we missed and will have to go on our list for next year.

Jerry and Suzy said...

We have visited Piedras Blancas also, and enjoyed our visit. But it is our opinion that watching hundreds of creatures all lying still on the sand, once in a while flipping a flipper, is a one-time event. But thanks for sharing your interest with us -- we enjoyed re-visiting the elephant seals from the comfort of our easy chairs. Wish we could have heard the bellowing contest!

Happytrails said...

I am always amazed at the instincts of animals. There certainly were a lot of folks enjoying the view of the seals. Wonderful pictures!! :)

You all continue to enjoy and I'll continue to add all these interesting places to my "must see" list.

Mike and Gerri

Margie M. said...

Thanks for the comments everyone. Jerry wrote truthfully, "the seals just lie there on the beach." Given that fact, they are amazing creatures to me and quite funny looking. I do think we will come back again in early Jan. to try and get a look at the younger pups. What else have we got to do? :)