More than 1,000,000 visitors find their way to Piedras Blancas near San Simeon Beach every year to get a look at the once near-extinct elephant seals. Since the pandemic has prevented a nonprofit from educating on-site, they're finding other ways to help.
Off Highway 1 near San Simeon, majestic mammals call home.
"They're just cuddling," said Waleed Yosufzai, a Virginia resident visiting California, about a group of elephant seals together on the sand.
Since March, volunteer docents from the Friends of the Elephant Seal haven't been able to educate visitors on everything elephant seals like they normally do 365 days every year.
“We really miss meeting the public," said Kathleen Curtis, President of the Friends of the Elephant Seal Board of Directors.
But they're finding other avenues to teach.
"We've been posting virtual field trips on the YouTube channel,” said Curtis. “We initially started those to substitute for the school field trips that were canceled this past spring, but I think they've been viewed by a lot of different people who are not school children as well."
Visitors from all across the country say having the docents on site would bring another element to the experience.
"I personally think it would be helpful. It would give people a heads up on when not to disturb the ecosystem,” said Los Angeles resident Khalid Yosufzai. “Maybe give some cool, distant views of what the animals are doing."
Eric Hjelstrom, Chief Ranger for San Luis Obispo District of California State Parks, says to stay in the viewing area and let the seals be.
"It's one of those success stories that you strive for in state parks. The seal population at San Simeon has been steadily growing for the past couple decades,” said Hjelstrom.
And make sure you keep your distance, especially during the upcoming breeding season.
"You don't want to get in between that,” said Hjelstrom.
If traveling on the 1, be sure to keep an eye out for seals on the road.
"I liken it to the buffalo traffic jams you see at Yellowstone. It's one of those things that we know how to deal with, and our officers respond," said Hjelstrom.