California's Central Coast

Piedras Blancas and the Elephant Seal Colony


piedras blancas lighthouse in distance
Piedras Blancas (white rocks) was named by Juan Cabrillo in 1542 as he sailed along this beautiful coast. The lighthouse was built in 1874 as a result of San Simeon Bay becoming a rather major port. There was a whaling station and lumber, farm produce and cinnabar were major exports resulting in more and more ships sailing in these dark, dangerous waters. The tall, classic tower is like those built along the Atlantic seaboard and is one of only three built on the California coast. A horrible storm in 1949 caused severe damage to the lantern room and the lens was removed. A rotating aerobeacon replaced the lens on a shorter tower returning the lighthouse to service. You can see the original lens today courtesy of the Friends of Piedras Blancas at the Pinedorado grounds on Main Street in Cambria. The road out to the lighthouse is fenced and locked and we understand the remaining buildings are used to study the sea otters and plant life in the area. Note: you can take a tour of the lighthouse on the third Saturday of each month at 10 or 1 - meeting at the Hearst Castle Visitor's Center. For Information on these tours call 805 927-6811.

elephant seals piedras blancas elephant seal colony piedras blancas colony young elephant seal Gabi boys viewing elephant seals ground squirrel lighthouse and white rocks at piedras blancas
Just south of the old lighthouse is the elephant seal rookery and it is absolutely amazing. Each time we visit the area is a bit changed and the season dictates what you will be able to see. Right below the visitor parking area and along the shore on a narrow beach is where the elephant seals mate, deliver, feed and wean their young. The huge males arrive in December weighing up to 2 tons and engage in fierce battles to establish dominance. The victorious bulls do most of the breeding and have to work hard to keep other males away from their turf! The females arrive in late December and are much smaller than the bulls. They are normally 10-12 feet long and weigh about 1,500 pounds. Soon after they arrive the females give birth to the pups they conceived the previous year. They normally have only one and will nurse them for about 28 days. The pups weigh about 75 pounds at birth and weigh in at 200-300 pounds in less than a month due to the rich milk provided by their moms! By mid March most of the adults are gone leaving the young to learn to swim and feed alone and by the end of April they too swim off toward the north. During summer months you can view elephant seals at Piedras Blancas as they return to shore for their annual molts. (April to May - females and juveniles) (May to June - sub adult males) (July to August - adult males) So, basically you can plan to see elephant seals from December to August in this area and believe the signs. Do not go down on the beach or try to get a better picture - these giants are dangerous when provoked and can really move quickly!

JJ will absolutely not surf in the central coast due to the fact that it is lousy with seals and they are the prey of - yep, you guessed it - sharks! Boys in black wet suits look just like seals from below!

go back to top... or home page... or prev page... or next page