Elephant seals are funny looking any time of the year but to watch them at breeding season is a special treat that will tickle your funny bone. The rookery is a very noisy place during the breeding season as males bellow threat vocalizations, pups squawk to be fed, and females squabble with each other over prime location and pups. Gargles, grunts, snorts, belches, bleats, whimpers, squeaks, squeals, and the male trumpeting combine to create the elephant seal symphony of sound. They lie like slugs on the beach, continuously flipping sand over their backs and now and then two or more rear up challenging each other with mock battle roars. This is how it is in elephant seal breeding season at Piedras Blancas Lighthouse on the Central Coast of California.
A battle between two of these large bulls truly something to see. When approached by another male, the resident bull will rear up on his hindquarters, throw his head back, and roar out a threat. His large bulbous nose dips down into his gaping mouth. Then each bull rears up and with great force they slam their bodies at each other, slashing away with their large canine teeth. Fights can last a few minutes or go on for hours. Usually the battle ends with one bull being forced into the water or backing away submissively.
The elephant seal is an extraordinary marine creature. It spends eight to ten months a year in the open ocean, diving 1000 to 5000 feet deep for periods of fifteen minutes to two hours, and migrating thousands of miles, twice a year, to its land based rookery for birthing, breeding, molting and rest.
Elephant seals, Piedras Blancas, San Simeon ,CA,
Oil obtained from elephant seals is second in quality only to the sperm whale so the Elephant seals were hunted to near extinction in the nineteenth century for their oil-rich blubber, but
Since Marine Mammal Protection Act, of 1972 they have made a remarkable comeback. A small group of between 20-100 elephant seals that bred on Guadalupe Island, off Baja California, survived the ravages of the seal hunts. Protected first by Mexico and later by the United States, they have steadily expanded their range outward from remote islands and are now colonizing selected mainland beaches such as Piedras Blancas in the southern range of Big Sur, near San Simeon. The total population estimate for northern elephant seals in 1999 is around 150,000.
Elephant seals form colonies for only a few months of each year to give birth, breed, and molt. The rest of the year the colonies disperse and individuals spend most of their time in pursuit of food, a quest which involves swimming thousands of miles and diving to great depths.
Some elephant seals are always present at Piedras Blancas, but the most interesting time to visit is during breeding season from November through February. Beaches are jammed with chubby females giving birth, little black pups suckling, and huge blubbery males doing battle.