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Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery in San Simeon, California

Male Elephant Seals sparring in the water

Hunted nearly to extinction, the northern elephant seal was given protected status by Mexico in 1922. Since then, the elephant seal population has expanded along the coast of California, including south of the Piedras Blancas Lighthouse near San Simeon.

Initial sightings of the resurgent population occurred in 1955 on Año Nuevo Island, and records of the first pups being born were in 1961. The numbers have grown drastically since that time, with current reports estimating that over 25,000 seals visit the Piedras Blancas Rookery every year, an expanse of central California coastline that stretches for nearly 6 miles north along Highway 1 from the town of San Simeon.

Northern elephant seals are the largest seal in the northern hemisphere, and the second largest in the world. Adult males range between 14 and 16 feet in length and can weigh up to 5,000 pounds. Female elephant seals weigh in around 900 to 1,800 pounds and average out at about 11 feet long. And the pups are not slouches either—they are 70 pounds and 3 to 4 feet at birth.

The Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery is just off Highway 1, and access to the viewing areas is very close to parking. This is a bit of a good news / bad news scenario: good news that the seals can be appreciated from close-up, and bad news that it’s easy to disturb their habitat. When checking them out, keep in mind that they got there first–they only took a break from these beaches for little while.

via Atlas Obscura - Latest Articles and Places