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Annual molting season underway for elephant seals in San Simeon

molting seals .jpg
Posted at 5:07 PM, Jul 29, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-30 23:35:10-04

Tourists and locals driving along Highway 1 stop year-round to check out the elephant seals near San Simeon but right now is quite the show as adult males haul themselves out of the water to molt their fur.

It isn’t hard to see, or smell, the elephant seals on the beaches of the Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery.

"I could spend all afternoon watching these guys just do their thing. It's fantastic," said tourist Brian Fallman.

Up to 25,000 seals visit these beaches annually to do everything from mating to molting but from June to September, the beaches belong to the males as they shed their fur.

“They're here for their annual molt. It takes them about one month. They will come ashore and just rest on the beach while their old fur dies and falls off and underneath is a brand new layer," said Piedras Blancas Friends of the Elephant Seal Guide
Jeff Ewins.

For the months they spend hunting in the depths of the Pacific their surroundings are just too cold to shed their fur, forcing them to the surface.

“Elephant seals are mammals and like all mammals, they must renew their skin and hair on a regular basis because these animals live in the open ocean and where they forage for food is very deep and very, very cold," said Ewins. "They can't lose it during the normal course of their life throughout the year, so they come ashore for one month period. It's called a catastrophic molt and it's where they lose all of their skin and fur at one time. All of the elephant seals will do it, both male and female, young and old. “

Males and females come ashore to molt separately. Right now, it's time for adult males and sub-adult males.

“Oh, my gosh. I've never seen all the males, like, come in and hang out together. It's always been later on in the season, but they're getting ready to fight. They're kind of testing each other out. It's neat to see great action. My daughter was saying there's so much going on. We can spend all afternoon just watching these guys," Fallman said.

Most will conserve energy and sleep on the beaches but the younger males take the opportunity to practice fighting.

“They're teaching themselves those fighting skills that they will need later in their life when they compete in the mating wars," Ewins explained.

For the month the seals are onshore, they will not eat or drink. By November, most males will return to hunting ahead of the winter mating season.