California wildlife: elephant seals

Hundreds of animal on the beach at Point Piedras Blancas

California wildlife: elephant seals
10th March 2009 Jane Tomlinson

A week before we went to California, my Californian friend Karen tipped me off about a rookery of elephant seals (Mirounga angustirostris) at Point Piedras Blancas seven miles north of San Simeon, California. Late January is the perfect time to visit as an estimated 15,000 animals pup and mate on the beaches there. Even having been told about the huge number of animals on the beaches, the sight that greeted us still left us astonished.

There were mums nursing pups of all sizes:

And large males fighting for supremacy at the waterline.

The winner of each battle was usually the largest, size matters to elephant seals, and he became beachmaster, with the right to mate with any female who became sexually available.

Other males, less experienced, tried to sneak a quick mating with any female he could lay his flippers on if he thought the beachmaster wasn’t looking.

We spent four fascinating hours observing their activities. For a creature which congregates in such numbers, they are extraordinarily bad-tempered and antisocial. There’s never a dull moment at Point Piedras Blancas.

Photos: Moth Clark