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Northern Elephant Seals

Elephant seals return to Año Nuevo State Park every winter to battle, breed, and sunbathe!!

By Christian Yungert

Each year, beginning in mid-December, elephant seals return from months at sea to give birth and breed before returning to the open ocean in March.

Males will arrive first and promptly begin their epic battles for prime beach real estate and a harem of females. The females arrive shortly after the males and give birth to the pups they have been carrying for nearly a full year. Shortly after breeding, adult seals will return to the ocean until next year. Weaned pups will remain on the beaches until March as they practice their swimming in hunting skills in preparation for life in the open ocean.

For the safety and enjoyment of all, human and seal alike, all visits to see the elephant seals must be through one of the many guided tours. The tours begin everyday at 8:45, with three tours being offered per hour. The final outing is at 2:45pm, and tours last approximately 2.5 hours. The tours run from Dec. 15 through March 31.

Additionally, equal access tours are provided Fridays through Sundays, 10am and 1pm, for those requiring mobility assistance. Tours run Dec. 18 through March 20.

Reservations are required for equal access tours and are highly recommended for all others. Tickets are $7. A limited number of tickets for the guided walks are also available on a first-come, first-served basis. The State Park requests that visitors arrive 15 minutes prior to their tour. For equal access tours, make reservations at 650-879-2033 or email Ano.EqualAccess@parks.ca.gov. Make guided tour reservations here.

Fascinating Facts about the Northern Elephant Seal

Greasy Giants
During the whaling boom of the late 19th century, the northern elephant seal was hunted to near-extinction. The animals are blubber-rich, and an adult bull could provide up to 25 gallons of oil. Some estimates argue as few as 100 elephant seals remained by the time Mexico and the United States banned seal hunting in 1922. Today, populations are estimated to be over 150,000 individual seals.

You're Crushing Me
Elephant seals are one of nature’s greatest examples of sexual dimorphism (the physical size difference between males and females). Males can reach up to 18ft in length and weigh 6,000 pounds. Female will reach a maximum length of 10ft and a weight of 1900lbs.

Formula for Success
Newborn pups will feed for nearly a month on super-nutritious and fatty milk from their mothers. During this time, pups will gain an average of 10 pounds a day.

Use Me 'Til You Use Me Up
Elephant seals display a unique mating system in which alpha males will violently battle each other for control of a harem of females. Harems can vary in size, with some being as large as 200 females. Alpha males may only breed for a couple of seasons, as protecting a harem is so exhausting that even the largest males can only do it for a limited time.

To learn more visit marinemammalcenter.org and nps.gov.

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