Just north of San Simeon, in the northwest corner of San Luis Obispo County, is a lighthouse that has been shining its light to warn boaters about the rocky shoreline for more than 100 years.
Now, however, the Piedras Blancas Light Station is serving a much bigger purpose.
“The light station was built here because we’re on this little peninsula, so we extend about a half mile out into the open sea. There’s a shallow rocky reef directly outside of this point, so it’s a dangerous point of land. This light station was built to kind of tell sailors to stay away,” said Jodie Nelson, Bureau of Land Management Outdoor Recreation Planner.
The light station is recognized as a California Coastal National Monument.
The same features that make it a dangerous area for boaters, make it the perfect safe resting place for whales and their babies on their annual migration.
“This is the absolute best location along the US West Coast to conduct a mother-calf survey and that’s because they come within a few hundred meters of shore here. Almost all of the cow-calf pairs pass right by this point,” said Jim Caretta with the Southwest Fishery Science Center.
Whale researchers are able to keep a close eye on the visitors by using drones.
“We can do a health check without them even knowing we’re there. It’s a great example of noninvasive science. Our drones are up high, about 200 feet above them. We don’t have a boat in the water. They have no idea we’re here, but we’re giving them a really precise health check. We can see how fat they are. Are they as fat as the last time we were here,” said Jim Durban with the Southwest Fishery Science Center.
The study is just one of many research projects taking place at the lighthouse, which is also now open for tours.
“The biggest response that we’ve gotten both face-to-face as well as online, has been that they thought they were coming out to see a lighthouse. They were dismayed to discover it was a two-hour tour, but then their takeaway from it was it was just really one of the best experiences that they’ve ever had on a tour like this, and I don’t think people are really expecting our little trail. They’re not expecting the breadth of knowledge that we share with them,” said Nelson.
The same light that has been keeping boaters away from shore since 1875 is now welcoming scientists and visitors to a little piece of hidden history.
For more information about tours, click here.