Elephant Seal Viewing
The Piedras Blancas Rookery is the only elephant seal rookery in the world that is easily accessible, free, and open to the public every day of the year. No reservations are needed. The rookery is located seven miles north of San Simeon on Highway 1.
The Elephant Seal viewing area has plenty of parking. The dirt lot can accommodate vehicles of all sizes. RVs and trucks will have no issue finding space.
Elephant Seals can be spotted year round. In peak times, there are up to 17,000 animals on the San Simeon shores. There are three peak times of the year that have large populations of seals – January, April, and October.
Males Arrive for Mating Rights
Starting in November, adult male elephant seals will start to arrive on the shore. Adult males will look to stake claim to pupping locations on the beach. When another adult male challenges a pupping location, a fight for dominance ensues. Adult males will fight for mating rights from December through January. Elephant seal bulls can reach 16 feet in length and weigh up to 5,000 pounds. Watching these enormous animals fight for dominance is quite a spectacle.
Birthing and Breeding Season
From December through March, female elephant seals will arrive on the beach to mate and give birth. Pregnant females begin to arrive in December with the majority of expecting mothers arriving in January. Births will typically occur a few days after arrival. Elephant seals are also typically born at night. Elephant Seal pups can weigh as much as 300 pounds. During the last week of nursing pups, females will seek adult males for copulation. Once complete, the female will typically leave for sea and leave her pup behind. Pups are left alone to learn to swim and hunt. Most pups are ready to depart for the sea in March and April.
Starting in April, females and juvenile elephant seals will return to the shore to molt. The molting season is quick. Most females and juveniles are back in the water by the end of May. In June, subadult males will return to the beach to begin their molt. By August, the males are mostly completed with their molt. The shore has the least amount of animals in August. However, the majority of the animals seen are the alpha males. They are some of the largest elephant seals that can be seen.
Haul Out Preparation
From September through October, the females and sub adults arrive on the shore to prep for their haul-out. This period is another peak of animals on the beach.
Typical Viewing Experience
Elephant Seals are seen year-round at the Piedras Blancas Rookery. Best times of year to see these amazing animals in action are October through May with the big show (birthing and breeding) in January and February. Come see these magnificent marine mammals up close on one of the prettiest coastlines in California.
Ensure a safe and pleasant viewing experience for everyone by following NOAA’s marine wildlife viewing guidelines.
Friends of the Elephant Seal
The Friends of the Elephant Seal are almost always at the rookery to help answer questions. Look for the blue jackets to find a docent. Docents will help educate you to enrich your viewing experience.
Stewardship Travel is your getaway to ‘Ah-Ha’ moments on vacation through activities and charitable donation opportunities that protect wildlife, habitat, and cultural heritage sites. Gain a deeper connection while on vacation with this amazing stewardship program.
This activity selection includes:
*A learning activity and/or outing
*A conservation/heritage donation opportunity through Friends of the Elephant Seal
Thank you for being a Stewardship Traveler along the Highway 1 Discovery Route.
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