If you fancy yourself a nature lover, there is a habitat for elephant seals along the California coast that you will not want to miss.
See between December and March
During the December to March mating season, there are docent led nature walks at Año Nuevo State Park where you can learn all about the habits and habitats of one of nature’s most enormous creatures, the elephant seal.
The main attraction would be the great northern elephant seals that can weigh 2 1/2 tons each, but other visible species include sea lions, otters, and harbor seals.
It’s fun to see the big bulls fight for dominance on the shore and strut their stuff to attract the bevy of women in-waiting. At the conclusion of the party, many of the females – pregnant in the year before – give birth in the sand. Then it’s off to the sea until the next year’s call to revelry.
Hunted to near extinction in the nineteenth century, the elephant seal population dwindled to about 100 animals. Protected by the Mexican and American authorities in the early twentieth century, the population has rebounded to some 150,000.
The first elephant seal sightings in Año Nuevo started in the 1950s. The first pups were born on the mainland in the 70s, and by the mid-90s, the amount of local births was in the thousands.
This is successful conservation in action!
In March, and after the primary group has departed for parts unknown, the pups and lots of hundred elephant seals continue to rest and recover along the shore and molt – less lively as breeding, but still worth seeing.
Be forewarned, on warm sunny days, there is nothing quite like the aroma of a molting elephant seal.
The wind-swept island is home to the remains of a 19th century lighthouse. The historical keeper’s house shown above was constructed in 1872, and now provides refuge to a variety of Cormorants and Sea Lions.
You may walk approximately 3-miles during a tour at Año Nuevo. Wear comfortable clothes, especially shoes, as your guided walk will take you over varied terrain such as sand dunes, and you know what it’s like to trudge in sand.
Also, wear appropriate headgear because the tours go, rain or shine – and umbrellas are not permitted.
NOTE: There is an accessible boardwalk via van for those needing mobility assistance. Request details when buying tickets for the tour.
To find out more about visiting with the intriguing elephant seals, check out the park’s website.
There’s also a worthwhile Marine Education Center located inside the park boundaries with interesting animal, plant, and geological exhibits, along with information about the colorful history of the area.
If you go
Treat yourself and your family to a visit with the magnificent elephant seals. The scenic ride along iconic Highway 1 is icing on the cake.