Sighting from January 17, 2019 at Año Nuevo State Park in Pescadero, CA.
Each year in the winter, elephant seals come to Año Nuevo to give birth and mate. Last year I went to Año Nuevo in February, and most of the females had already given birth. There were lots of weaner pups and little interaction between mothers and pups. Read about that sighting here.
This year I went on a stormy January day. It takes around one month for a pup to be weaned, so by coming in January I saw a lot more newborn pups than I’d seen on my last trip.
When we arrived at the dunes with our docent led tour, we first spotted some large males resting in the grass. There were mostly younger males, identifiable because of their relatively short nose.
Once we crested the dune we could see the main breeding area. It was extremely noisy, with mothers and pups vocalizing constantly.
One mother near us seemed to be protecting her baby from any approaching birds. She would hiss and throw sand every time they came close to her pup.
We witnessed a fight between two large males. They struck each other five or six times before the smaller one retreated back towards the water. If you look closely you can see their teeth and the bloody breastplates.
Later we saw one more fight which was settled much more quickly.
We also witnessed a few mating events.
There were a few second and third year juveniles on the beach; our docent said they would leave before the main breeding event began.
Just three weeks can make a huge difference in the kind of behavior we see out in the field! If you want to check out the elephant seals for yourself, I highly recommend the docent led tours at Año Nuevo. You can also see elephant seals on the California coastline at San Simeon or Point Reyes.