871. Elephant Seals

The beaches of Asilomar occasionally provide a nice resting place for wayward elephant seals during the spring and summer. Most elephant seals that stop here are young. Sometimes elephant seals rest in the same spot for an extended period of time without feeding. As a matter of fact, during the breeding season elephant seals may remain on the beach for two or three months without eating or drinking anything! Males can weigh up to five thousand pounds; they rely on their incredible stores of fat to survive. There are two active winter breeding locations nearby, one to the north near Santa Cruz at Ano Nuevo State Reserve; and one to the south at San Simeon. In December, the males arrive at these locations and strike up violent battles to determine who will dominate the breeding ground. The females start to arrive by the end of December, give birth, and are immediately ready to mate. The males continue fighting to maintain mating rights through February. With several hundred elephant seals of all ages on the beach at once it can be quite a scene. By early spring all of the elephant seals are out in the open ocean feeding and building back their fat reserves. In the spring and summer the seals make their return to shore to molt. That is when we see them here at Asilomar – always alone and usually for a stay of less than a day. You’re lucky to see elephant seals here today because at one time the species dwindled to less than one hundred. People hunted them voraciously for their blubber. Thankfully, the U.S. followed Mexico’s lead in protecting the elephant seal starting in the early twentieth century. Today, over 150,000 inhabit the Pacific Coast waters!