Elephant Seals on the Pacific Coast Highway

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Just a few minutes north of Hearst Castle at San Simeon, you’ll find another excuse to pull off the road and take in the view of the Pacific coastline.  A scenic turnout provides a nice view north, towards Piedras Blancas Light Station.

It’s kinda hard to see on the horizon, but better views can be found (as well as access to the Piedras Blancas Light Station Outstanding Natural Area) just up the road.  The best reason to stop at this turnout…

… is the chance to see some very big, very bizarre creatures.  Elephant Seals hang out at this beach, and others along this part of the California coast, from December through March.  Females show up here to give birth, nurse their pups, then mate again, before taking off.

Since I was visiting in late February, most of the mating had probably already occurred, which means many of the adult females had already departed.  Probably, most of the creatures I was seeing were either males or pups.

In these pictures, it’s tough to tell exactly how big the Elephant Seals are.  So consider this: females weigh up to 1,600 pounds, males can tip the scales at 5,000 pounds.   Pups start out at 60-80 pounds, but quadruple in weight during the first month, thanks to their mothers’ milk, some of the richest produced by any mammal.

100 years ago, elephant seals were nearly extinct.  They were hunted for their oil-rich blubber.  Since receiving protection under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, their population has recovered nicely.

Take another moment to enjoy the view…

… then hop back on the Pacific Coast Highway.  Just ahead, the exciting Big Sur Mountains begin.

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