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Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Piedras Blancas' Elephant Seals

One of my favorite parts of living on the central coast is the diversity of the area: small towns, rolling countryside, acres of vineyards, and rugged coastline. I like to think that I've explored this area rather thoroughly but I'm always amazed by the treasures here. During a recent surf expedition, I decided to take Kristin to check out the Piedras Blancas Light Station.

Just north of the famous Hearst Castle, one can find the Piedras Blancas Light Station and an idyllic beach that is home to an 8,000-strong elephant seal colony. Northern elephant seals can be found all along the Pacific coastline of Mexico, United States, and Canada.
I mean it when I say elephant seals are massive; anyone who surfs regularly on the central coast probably has an interesting story involving an elephant seal. These make harbor seals, and even sea lions, look small. Males can reach up to 16 feet in length and 4 tons in weight, while the females can reach 11 feet in length and just less than 2 tons in weight. Nevertheless, they aren't called elephant seals for their size; their large snouts (proboscis) resemble elephant trunks, and allow them to produce loud roars (proboscis are always important as they reabsorb moisture exiting via exhalations).

Elephant seals are renowned for their deep-water fishing habits and their ability to stay underwater for over 90 minutes (the longest of any noncetecean mammal). They mostly feed at depths between 300 and 1,000 meters (1,000 and 2,600 feet) and almost exclusively nocturnally. Their prey includes small sharks, octopuses, squid, eels, rays, and several larger fish species.
We had a fun time watching the elephant seals interact on the beach here. The view point setup here allows visitors to get relatively close to these large mammals in their natural habitat.

1 comment:

  1. Last time the 3 of us were there, two bulls were chest-bumping each other - really having at it(perhaps one was flirting w/ the other's paramour?) And LOUD!! Those suckers are big and hellishly fast on the beach!