In the winter the beaches at Piedras Blancas (GPS N35° 39′ 45.4″ W121° 15′ 23.7″ or about 4.5 miles north of Hearst Castle on Highway 1) are covered with elephant seal families. The males control harems of about 30 female seals and their growing babies. From the parking area and attached boardwalk one can see a thousand or more seals, with more on other beaches in the area.
While there are usually some seals here year-round, the Jan/Feb timeframe is a good one because they are mating and the pups are weaning. The only caveat: dress warm. The winter wind off the ocean can be quite bitter. Pictures here were taken in mostly in February 2004 with one taken in 2005.
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…others of the females and pups cover themselves with sand for cooling. Even though the air temperature is on the chilly side, the seals laying in the sun on the sand can get warm and they need to cover themselves to keep cool.
|On one side of the boardwalk two seal pups take their lunch…||…while on the other side one of the local fauna does the same off the local flora.|
The pups feed until they have gained enough weight to become independent at which point the female becomes available for mating and the pups leave to be on their own.
Elsewhere on the beach you might see one of the males mating with one of the females in his harem. He makes it known when he is done. The female then goes out to sea for several months and feeds to nourish herself. When she comes back to the beach in the summer after feeding and to molt, hormones kick in and the fetus then begins to develop. After molting she will migrate and feed again to return the next winter and give birth, feed the pup to independence and start the cycle again.
There is often a good deal of activity on the beach as shown in this 2005 photo of multiple discussions taking place…
At the end of the day, a brief storm moved in and the visit was over as the rain started…