January 23, 2016

Elephant Seals at Piedras Blancas

Last April we went on a Californian adventure so overwhelmingly full and varying in sights and experiences, I didn't know where to begin when we got home.  (I think we began by heading straight to the Canadian border for a high school baseball game.  Life doesn't pause.)
With some time gone by, many highlights stand out on their own. 
Recollecting one of them today..

After making our way down the breathtaking Big Sur Coast, 80+ miles of intense hairpin twists, turns, and cliffs behind us, our route evened out more low and smooth.  We'd had a full day already and were content as we settled into cruising speed and wide open spaces.  The ocean at our side, the late afternoon sun shining down, the Pacific Coast Highway stretched out in front of us.

Cruising along, I spotted what I thought were a good number of seals between curves in the shoreline.  A few miles further along, no doubt about it, I glimpsed more.
Then, I almost couldn't believe my eyes. 
We'd reached the Piedras Blancas Elephant Seals.

We pulled into the gravel parking lot off the highway. No visitor center, no tourist shop, just a great long boardwalk for respectful viewing of thousands of these creatures.
I was tickled pink!

At one time, humans had killed elephant seals to near extinction. They were thought to be extinct in the late 1880s.  Now protected, they are one of the greatest recoveries our continent has seen.
At this site there were no elephant seals before 1990.  Now it's a safe haul out site for birthing, breeding, molting and resting for several thousand of them.  (About 17,000 according to Friends of the Elephant Seal.)

The giant adult males (the ones who give elephant seals their names with their trunk-like noses)   were off diving the oceans deep during our April visit.  Adult males can weigh up to 7 times more than adult females.. up to 5,000 pounds.  I've seen video of those bulls, who fight violent, bloody battles.  They are a sight!   We visited the rookery at a more peaceful time when the "cuter" females and juveniles were there to molt. 
Elephant seals go through what is called a "catastrophic molt." 
They were at all different phases.  Some looked rough and tattered as they shed their old skin.  Others looked velvety smooth.  Juvenile males practiced fighting, but there was mostly a lot of napping or jostling for a better napping position going on.

Mitch didn't seem as smitten with the elephant seals as I was.  Maybe he thought they were awkward and made rude sounds and had snotty noses. (This was true. They smelled strongly, too.)  But I could have watched and taken photos 'til the sun went down.  There's just something about observing wildlife in its natural habitat.  I was absolutely enthralled with these seals!  Everything about them was interesting; their behavior.. how some were so still it seemed they couldn't possibly be alive.. I'd watch until they'd finally take a breath.  How others seemed intent on jostling, pestering, or stealing a spot.  The noise.  The way they use their flippers like fingers to scratch their bellies.  The way they flip sand onto themselves.  The trails they left on the beach. 

I had a hard time tearing myself away.
There were so many of them!  Even Mitch agrees that aspect was pretty neat to see.

When we got home I was intrigued to learn all about elephant seals.  They are remarkable deep divers with fascinating physical features that allow them to do so.
If you're ever in the San Simeon / Piedras Blancas area, you've got to stop and see this safe haven of theirs.. 
It was an unforgettable experience.

Peace, Love, and So Many Seals!

Sharing with Our World
Eileen's Critters


  1. Oh, wow! What an amazing experience!

  2. omgoodness, I would have wet my pants....such a sight to behold!! We had one on a nearby beach, but by the time I visited the seal had moved on!!

  3. Amazing . . . I truly would think a sight to see . . .
    I loved seeing your photos and listening to your recounting . . .

  4. What a wonderful spectitcal an fantastic shots of the Seals

  5. Hello, wow it was cool to see all the elephant seals. They have the cutest faces. Great sighting and photos. Thank you for linking up and sharing your post. Have a happy weekend!

  6. Fabulous pictures! I'm sure they smelled; I remember that vividly from the seals I saw in the Galapagos Islands. Thank you so much for allowing me to tag along through your pictures. :-)

  7. Impressive! When I glanced at that first photo, I almost thought they were rocks! lol

  8. I've been here, and you show it well in your photos. I think the smell was what finally drove me away! I need a few tips on sleeping from these creatures!

  9. Absolutely fascinating! What an incredible sighting! I would have been tickled pink too. They are such interesting creatures

  10. adorably cute. but such odd creatures, too. :) amazing things nature has to offer. :)

  11. Wow - what an amazing adventure! And such a lovely sight...

  12. What a gift to see and be able photograph these amazing sea creatures! Delightful! Love them! Great photography!

    Wishing you peace in your week ~ ^_^

  13. What a sight. I am not surprised that you couldn't tear yourself away. I remember the smell of them from the Galapagos - unforgettable!

  14. There were a lot of them when you visited. I think I have not seen so many when I have stopped. I like how they seem to be smiling while they sleep.

  15. I would have loved to come upon that sight, what a treat. I totally understand you not wanting to leave.

  16. What sweet little faces they have in some of your photos. Lovely.

    1. Wow! What a sight. I absolutely love these vignettes of nature in the raw.

  17. Really interesting. We have sea lions where we live, but none of these. - Margy

  18. These are fantastic. What a neat thing to see. Loved them.

  19. I wondered if the smell would get a mention! Seal colonies have a perfume all of there own. Where I live in Australia I see more birds leave in spring than arrive! All the waders head north - it still feels like an absence.

    Cheers - Stewart M - Melbourne

    PS; I have just posted a 'long post' on my wordy blog if you have 10 minutes to fill. SM

  20. I imagine I would have shared your fascination. I love observing animals in their natural environment. I gather they posed no danger to you, especially with the males being away diving.

  21. Such a wonderful place, Amanda! I have not heard about the Elephant Seal-name before ... there's so many of them! And the traces they leave in the sand ... wonderfully captures, Amanda ... So good that they're a protected species. When I was little, one of my favorite toy animals was a white seal ... (I still have it) - So this post crawled right up to my heart :)
    Thank you for sharing your experience!

  22. What an amazing sight. Nice to hear they are no longer endangered.

  23. Thanks for the heads up about this site. We haven't made it to California yet, but we hope to do so in the near future. I would like to recreate your drive down the coast.

  24. Oh my goodness, you would have had to drag me out of there. What an awesome sight to see.

  25. super photos superb!!! I used to live in BC-on Vancouver Island visiting Big Sur regularly seeing the E.S.'s in such numbers was always amazing, back home two big ol guys swam by our place every morning, this was on the pacific ocean side..you've sparked some wonderful memories for me.

  26. How gorgeous, and what beautiful photographs! What a wonderful experience - I remember dolphin watching at a beach near my house and it's so therapeutic and beautiful, isn't it?

    Sammy xo.