The most easily accessible location on the California coast where you can view the Elephant Seals is near San Simeon, CA, about 5 miles north of the entrance to the Hearst Castle. Right on Highway 1 you can pull into the parking lot and observe them laying on the beach and maybe sparring in the surf. The rookery you see here ranges over 6 miles of California coastline in the area of Piedras Blancas. This was a 30 mile drive north from our base in Morro Bay, CA.
The Elephant Seal is an amazing marine mammal. The males can grow to 16 feet in length and weigh up to 5,000 pounds with the females being much smaller. They spend 8 to 10 months of the year in open ocean, ranging up to 3,000 miles north. During this time they are solitary and spend 90% of their time deep under water. They routinely dive 1,000 to 3,000 feet staying down an average of 25 minutes. Some have been known to dive 5,800 feet and to stay underwater as long as 2 hours.
They come ashore to breed, calve and molt. When they are ashore they don’t feed at all during this time. While nursing her young the females will lose hundreds of pounds. When they are in the ocean they don’t circulate blood near their skin so they don’t grow new skin and hair. Therefore, they must come ashore where they are surrounded by warmer air rather than cold water in order to shed old skin. This molting takes about a month and they will remain on the beach during the process.