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Tourists flock to San Simeon to observe Northern Elephant Seal pupping season

Posted: 8:05 PM, Feb 17, 2019
Updated: 2019-02-18 01:39:19-05

Pupping season is well underway north of Cambria, where a new generation of seal pups are being born.

“It’s the only time of year you can see all of them: the big 5,000 pound males, females, newborn pups,” Friends of Elephant Seals Manager Wendy Sheridan said. “If you’re lucky, you can see a birth.”

The world’s largest population of Northern Elephant Seals can be found here on the Central Coast just north of Cambria in San Simeon.

“Our rookery here is the largest rookery, it’s about 25,000 seals,” Sheridan said.

The population has come along way since the early 1900s when hunters nearly killed off the Northern Elephant Seal population.

“The Elephant Seals have really come back,” Marine Mammal Conservation of SLO County Operations Assistant Aliah Meza. “It’s a conservation highlight for California.”

This time of year, the seals beach on the Central Coast, mating and giving birth before taking off into the ocean.

“The pup will stay with mom for 28 days and will be weaned from mom’s milk,” Meza said.

“Little by little, the females will leave the beach and leave the ‘weaners’ behind, the pups that have been weaned,” Sheridan said.

Sometimes the “weaners” are swept into the ocean before they’ve learned to forage and become malnourished.

When that happens, the Marine Mammal Center takes the seal in and rehabilitates it.

The pupping season draws visitors in from around the globe, making this rainy, colder season a surprising tourism boost for the Cambria area.

“It’s one of the only places in the world to see the northern elephant seal, so we feel pretty special,” Sheridan said.

Sheridan and Meza warn visitors not to disturb the seals, which can cause the 5,000 pound males to become aggressive.

“If you’re approaching the animal and it’s responding to you, you’re too close,” Meza said.

Meza also said you should be far enough from the animal that the zoom feature on your camera is necessary to capture an image of the animal’s face.

It’s a sight not to be missed, but the season of love does wrap up in the next couple of weeks.

“They’re just amazing,” Sheridan said. “People fall in love with them.”