|Elephant seals bask lazily in the afternoon sun at this favorite beach
where they come to molt at Piedras Blancas near Cambria.
Females give birth for the first time at
an average age of 3-4 and have an average life expectancy of about 20 years.
Males are mature at five years, donn't reach high rank until 8 with prime
breeding years between 9-12. Males have a life expectancy of 14 years.
Most information was supplied by the Elephant Seals org. @ their award
winning site, http://www.elephantseal.org/
Hundreds of thousands of northern elephant
seals once inhabited the Pacific Ocean. They were slaughtered wholesale
in the 1800s for the oil that could be rendered from their blubber. By
1892, only 50 to 100 individuals were left. The only remaining colony was
on the Guadalupe Island off the coast of Baja California.
In 1922, the Mexican government gave protected
status to elephant seals, and the U. S. government followed suit a few
years later when the seals began to appear in Southern California waters.
Since that time, elephant seals have continued to multiply exponentially,
and they have extended their breeding range as far north as Point Reyes.
Today, there are approximately 160,000 northern elephant seals.
The first elephant seals on Año
Nuevo Island were sighted in 1955, and the first pup was born there in
1961. In 1978, 872 were born there. Males began to haul out on the mainland
in 1965. A pup born in January 1975 was the first known mainland birth
of a northern elephant seal at Año Nuevo; 86 pups were born there
in 1978. By 1988/1989, about 2,000 elephant seals came ashore at Año
Nuevo, and the number of seals breeding and giving birth on the mainland
is still increasing. During the 1994-95 breeding season, approximately
2,000 pups were born on the mainland.
It all began on November 25, 1990 when
less than two dozen elephant seals were counted in the small cove just
south of the Piedras Blancas lighthouse. Spring of 1991 brought almost
400 seals to molt. In January of 1992 the first birth occurred.
The colony grew at a phenomenal rate. In 1993, about 50 pups were
born. In 1995, 600 pups were born. The population explosion was underway.
By 1996 the number of pups born soared to almost 1000 and the colony stretched
all the way to the beaches that run along the Coast Highway.
Where did the animals come from that began
populating the Piedras Blancas beaches? Re-sightings of tagged animals
indicate that most were from San Miguel Island, San Nicolas Island, and
Ano Nuevo. However, all the major rookeries were represented. Overcrowding
or failure to successfully wean pups may have prompted them to move.
There's a lighthouse on Highway
1, just north of San Simeon. The lighthouse is not open to the public,
but can be seen from Highway 1. There is an elephant seal colony just south
of the lighthouse, on the beach just off Highway 1. The first-order Fresnel
lens can be seen in the town of Cambria (13 miles south of the lighthouse)
at the Veterans Building on Main Street (Highway 1 Business Route). The
lens is maintained by the Friends of the Piedras Blancas Lighthouse Lens
(P.O. Box 1688, Cambria, CA 93428-1688, (805) 927-0459).