Elephant Seals At Piedras Blancas, CA — February 2-4, 2009

I spent a few days in early February checking out the northern elephant seals (Mirounga angustirostris) that migrate down to CA beaches each winter. They come from as far north as Alaska for the females to give birth and the males to fight for mating rights to produce next year’s generation. You can read many pertinent details about these animals and their remarkable comeback from near extinction if you scroll further down to the blog post I did after visiting this same area in early 2006.


This is a popular elephant seal haul-out site—a beach just south of the Piedras Blancas lighthouse (a few miles north of the Hearst Castle). It’s also a popular spot for tourists, as a fenced-off boardwalk has been built here up on the bluff so the seals can be easily observed.


The very helpful docents who belong to a group called Friends of the Elephant Seals told me that most of the serious fighting among the alpha males for choice beach space and harems takes place in December as they arrive. While disputes over mating rights continue until the seals depart around March, I only observed a few instances like those in the two photos above.


With the lion’s share of the fighting in December and births peaking in January, most of the mating occurs in February. The peak of mating activity (fittingly enough) is mid-month–around Valentine’s Day.


As I was photographing elephant seals from the observation boardwalk, I noticed a lot of these California ground squirrels (Spermophilus beecheyi) running around in the scrub brush on the bluff. They are very acclimated to people and didn’t mind posing. The above shot, with the out-of-focus ocean background, was my favorite of the trip. You just never know when a good photo opportunity will present itself….


While most of the fighting action was over by my visit, the weather was beautiful with sunsets to match. I didn’t notice the human standing on the cliff at the top right of the above photo until after I’d taken it.

Best to all,



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