Note: the photos in this blog post look a bit odd because they are actually still frames from a video I shot a couple of years ago that I then photographed from the computer screen (it's a long story).
Listening to hundreds of elephant seals snorting, honking, bellowing, squealing and snuffling is a sound I will never forget. Three years ago my children and I went to Pescadero, CA to go on a docent led tour of the elephant seals in Ano Nuevo State Park. It was breeding season for the elephant seals. Bull males were fighting for dominance, females were giving birth, and pups were not only nursing, but also trying to stay out of the big males’ path (bulls don't care who they squish). To us humans viewing from a safe distance, it looked and sounded like bedlam. But what a sight!
For most of the year, elephant seals live in the waters of the Northern Pacific Ocean as far north as Alaska and the Aleutian Islands; but they make two migrations a year, coming ashore to the same beaches each time. One of these beaches is along the San Mateo coast of Northern California at Ano Nuevo State Park. In Spring and Summer, Elephant seals come ashore to molt, shedding the first layer of skin and fur (it comes off in sheets) over a period of four to six weeks. The second migration occurs in the Winter. Males come ashore in early December to establish dominance over their future harem. Females come ashore in late December and January to give birth and nurse their pups. The most exciting time of year to see the elephant seals is in December and January when the bulls are fighting for dominance.
You can see the elephant seals almost year-round at Ano Nuevo (yearlings lounge on the beaches in the Fall) by buying a visitor permit at the entrance station for a self-guided hike. But during breeding season (December– March), you can only see the seals by going on a guided walk. Weekends sell out fast so it's a good idea to make reservations weeks ahead of time (up to 56 days in advance). They do, however, sell some tickets on a first come first served basis on the days a tour is sold out.
Tours are "three-to-four mile walks over rolling sand dunes that last 2.5 hours and are considered moderately strenuous. They operate daily from early morning to mid-afternoon, rain or shine." I found the tour quite easy to walk because you do go slowly and stop often to listen to the guide. Tickets are only seven dollars a person, children three and under are free. By the way my kids loved this tour and when my daughter got tired of hearing our guide lecture about seals, she and a friend just knelt down in the sand and started playing. This is a great tour for kids but I wouldn't recommend it for ages three and under.
To make reservations for a guided walk call: 1-800-444-4445
For international reservations call: 518-218-5078
Equal access walks for those who need mobility assistance call: 650-879-2033
For more information including directions and what to bring, check out this link.
For more cool facts about elephant seals, Check out this website.
And now, to see and hear the elephant seals in action, watch my one minute video . .
Better yet, sign up for a tour!