Piedras Blancas Haulout Schedule

It's impossible to know the exact number of seals at San Simeon because they're never here all at the same time, not even for family holidays. They have developed a unique migration schedule that makes for efficient use of the beach. One that you might want to learn if you're planning to stop by and see the giant beach sausages.

The beach is occupied by varying numbers of animals, of different ages and sexes, depending upon the time of year. In a fully functional breeding colony like Piedras Blancas there are seals hauled out year-round but to pick a starting point we'll use early December, the start of the Breeding Season. Throughout the month the large bulls arrive to stake-out and defend prime beach real estate in anticipation of the females, who begin arriving late in the month and continue coming throughout January.

By the end of January most of the females are here and have each had one pup, birthing right on the beach. This is the peak breeding population time (numbers usually peak sometime between the 15th and 25th) and the most amazing time to view the seals. But be forewarned though, it's not a zoo. The seals will bear their entire life cycle before your eyes, for better and for worse, happy times and sad.

Throughout February and into March, after only four weeks of nursing, the females begin weaning their pups by abruptly taking off again on their migration to feed thousands of miles to the north and west. When the last females are finally gone, having no further reason to stay of course, the big bulls migrate north as well. Late March is pretty much the sole domain of the newly weaned pups. They can be endlessly entertaining during this phase. Most pups will be gone by late April.

April also marks the slow beginning of the long Molting Season. During the molt tempers between the seals are cooled off compared to the breeding season and the seals often happily lay on top of one another in huge piles of stacked blubber. The season begins with the arrival of young immature males and females, the rough and tumble teenagers of the colony. The females prefer to sleep on the beach all day while the males can often be spotted sparing with each other in the shoreline.

ByMay and June the mature females come back again, crossing paths with the large numbers of juveniles. This is the peak molting time with the greatest number of animals of the year hauled out on the beach (Peak numbers usually occur between the 15th and 25th of May). This is particularly true at a colony like Piedras Blancas since it’s so new there is a high percentage of immature animals in the population.

The mature females are not too keen on hanging out with the giant ill-mannered bulls so they take off by the time the big males return to molt in July and August. By July the number of seals around declines rapidly because there are significantly fewer mature males in the colony than females and immature animals, but seeing the giant bulls is always a thrill.

Between the end of August and the end of November there are no mature seals around at all but there are often many groups of immature animals. The population is at its lowest in September while the yearlings are returning from their successful first migration. But it increases again starting in October as the rest of the immature animals (2-4 year-olds) come back for the season known as the Fall Rest. As these animals mature their haulout schedule will be pushed later and later in the year until they eventually take up their rightful positions in the breeding population.

Piedras Blancas' yearly elephant seal population fluctuation.