Elephant Seals

October 4, 2015 at 8:26 am (California, Nature, Nature photography, Photography, Wildlife) (, )

Elephant seal bull

Elephant seal bull

I knew California was famous for its sea lion colonies, but I did not know about elephant seal rookeries until earlier this year.  I happened to visit the coast near San Simeon at just the right time (early February) to see thousands of these odd-looking sea mammals.

Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery

Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery

The noise was unceasing, even at night. The females come ashore to give birth, and I even watched one do just that.

Newborn elephant seal pup

Newborn elephant seal pup

The gulls are the cleanup crew, eagerly awaiting the nutrient-rich placenta.  In minutes there’s nothing left.

Gulls eating placenta

Gulls eating placenta

Some of the females at the rookery gave birth several months earlier, and their pups were fat and sassy.


Newborn with mother; older seal pup in background

The moms quarreled to maintain territories or protect their pups.


Males also had territorial battles, but these were often bloody and energetic.  They would whack each other with their heads, trying to slash the other with their huge teeth.  One would finally give way, but there were always more challengers.


Male elephant seals dueling

Male elephant seal bellowing

Male elephant seal bellowing

Males would bellow, throwing their heads back with deep-throated warnings to rivals.


The older the bull, the more extreme was his proboscis.


Some of the younger ones were just darned cute.


Elephant seal bull bellowing

Elephant seal bull bellowing



A battle-scarred veteran

A battle-scarred veteran

Many of the bulls would sidle up to a female but if she had a pup she would tell him in no uncertain terms that she wasn’t interested.  Once the pups leave, the mating will begin in earnest.

Mama barking

Mama barking

You can hear the various coughs and screeches and bellows in the video.  The babies sound like chimpanzees to me.  The moms will not eat for several months until the pups are done nursing, and to stay cool and wet on the beach they toss sand onto their backs.  It’s an amazing sight, so enjoy the video.


Sunset at the rookery

Sunset at the rookery

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Website:  CindyMcIntyre.com

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Contact:  cindy at cindymcintyre.com



  1. mbkircus said,

    WOW! Hope all these pictures were at the end of a very long lens. Great shots, though.

    • Cindy McIntyre said,

      There’s a boardwalk and a fence so you can’t get too close. Plus the 1200 mm SX-50 lens helps. 🙂

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