Now’s the time to see baby elephant seals at Piedras Blancas

It’s that time of year again: The beach at Piedras Blancas is full of babies.

Thousands of elephant seals spend the early part of the year — January through May — at the Piedras Blancas rookery along Highway 1 in northern San Luis Obispo County, birthing and breeding before heading back to sea.

Though pregnant elephant seals start to arrive in mid-December, their arrivals peak in mid-January and early February. Within about a week of arriving on the beach, they give birth to their pup. At birth, the pup weighs about 70 pounds, according to Friends of the Elephant Seal.

This year, January storms disrupted the elephant seals’ normal nursing routines. With high tides at Piedras Blancas, pups were separated from their mothers and were at risk for washing out to sea. The Marine Mammal Center in San Luis Obispo County performed its first pup rescue operation of the year Jan. 25, after hikers reported seeing a pup tangled in a pile of driftwood off Boucher Trail. The newborn pup, later named Stormy Night, was nursed by volunteers and later transferred to the center’s hospital in Sausalito.

Family life is short for the elephant seals. By the end of the pups’ four-week nursing period, their body weight has quadrupled, but their fasting mothers have lost twice that much. After mating, the mothers head to sea alone, abruptly weaning their pups. In the end, about 95 percent of Piedras Blancas pups survive to weaning.

By March, most of the mammals have left the beach, except for the dominant males that stay until the last female is gone.

Especially during stormy conditions, observers are asked to look out for elephant seals in distress and call the Marine Mammal Center rescue and response team in Morro Bay at 805-771-8300.