Best time to travel to California

Elephant Seals in California 2024-2025

These seals with elephant noses roam the ocean searching for food, and go ashore to breed and molt

Best time: December–March

Crowded beach
What a romantic elephant seal!
Elephant Seals Having a Discussion
Male elephant seal wouldn't let a female go out to feed without mating with him. Año Nuevo State Park
Male elephant seals practicing dominance displays in preparation for mating season in winter: Año Nuevo State Park

This marine creature received its strange name due to the male's nose shape that resembles a clipped elephant trunk. All of them spend little time ashore, mainly feeding in the oceanic waters. The seals come to the land only during breeding season, which runs from December to March.

Another reason to dry up is the molting season which peaks between April and May. The best viewing spots for seals are southern California and Mexico, hosting up to 150,000 elephant seals each season.

During the mating season, the bulls fight over the right to be a master of the beach, so you might witness some male elephant seal fights.

Año Nuevo State Park is the most accessible spot to see Northern Elephant Seals. Guided tours allow visitors a glimpse of these enormous wild animals in their natural habitat during the mating season from mid-December through March.

You can also see the elephant seals at a rookery near Piedras Blancas Light Station in San Simeon. Over 7,000 individuals live there. The male elephant seals can grow to 4 metres in length, and weigh around 2,300 kg. Seals have a predictable schedule of breeding, molting, and birthing. They leave the rookery in March, but return between April to August to molt. November brings back mature males, who fight with each other to achieve the dominance for the breeding season. After unique mating rituals, each year in winter, between mid-December and mid-February, thousands of pups are born.

Practical info

When is the best time to see elephant seals in California?

The elephant seals' breeding season in California is between December and March. Mid-February marks the arrival of thousands of seal pups, and you can watch the unique mating rituals. There's also a molting season between April to August that provides a rare opportunity to spot them.

Where can I find the largest elephant seal rookery in California?

San Simeon near Piedras Blancas Light Station is home to the largest rookery of elephant seals in California, with over 7,000 of them inhabiting the area. Point Reyes National Seashore, located in Northern California, hosts the second-largest rookery globally, while the southernmost colony exists in Baja California, at the Coronados Islands.

What is the distinguishing feature of the elephant seals?

Male elephant seals have a nasal appendage that resembles an elephant's snout. It has been named their proboscis or trunk, which grows to a maximum length of 60cm due to seasonal changes and plays a key role when attracting females for mating purposes. The nose enlargement is evident in adolescence and continues growing after three years of age.

How long can the male elephant seals grow to?

Male elephant seals become mature when they reach 4 meters in length and weigh up to 2,300 kg. Although the average lifespan is around 14 years, some males live up to 20 years. The smaller female seals reach lengths of up to 3 meters and weigh up to 900 kg. The pups weigh 40-50 kg at birth and enjoy a rapid growth phase during the nursing period.

Can I witness any unique behavior during the breeding season?

One can observe male elephant seals engage in a unique behavior during the breeding season that takes place from mid-December to March. The dominant male seals fight to claim a female harem and defend their territory. When they want to move to a different location, the winner has to hold their breath and sneak into the premises of another male seal undetected. The male seals engage in chest bumping and loud roars to challenge each other's authority on the beach.

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