The seal rookery at Piedras Blancas is on California highway 1 at the southern end of Big Sur on the California coast, twelve miles north of Cambria and four miles north of the entrance to the Hearst Castle. The location is ideal for the seals: it is protected by the Piedras Blancas point from storms from the northwest; it has wide, sandy beaches offering pups protection from high water; and it is protected from predators by a kelp forest.
Also important to the seals are the shallow rocky areas just off the beach. These areas are protected by the rocks from breaking waves and provide an ideal location for recently weaned pups to learn how to swim and for the males – from juvenile to adult – to spar.
Since the first pup was born in January 1992, the colony has grown to more than 22,000 elephant seals along a 7-mile stretch of coastline
Elephant seals return to mate on the same beaches where they were born. As more pups are born every year, the colony continues to grow.
The pregnant females are arriving, and the birthing has begun. The season begins slowly at the end of December, and by February as many as 4,000 pups may have been born. Now the beaches are filling up with pregnant females and mothers with pups.
As the nursing period ends, she goes into estrus and is ready to mate. That’s what the alpha males have been waiting for.
There is an element of drama every day, between pups and mothers and harem masters and their challengers.
The mother nurses her pup for about a month, and the pup, which weighs about 60 pounds when it is born, can gain as much as 10 pounds a day on the rich milk. The mother, not eating during birthing and nursing, can lose almost twice as much weight as the pup gains.