Still time to see a pup born
Pregnant females are still arriving at Piedras Blancas to give birth to their pups. Most pups are born at night, but daytime births are common. More than 5,000 pups will be born in the rookery, so you could get lucky. If not, view a video here.
The Piedras Blancas viewpoint remains open to the public. Wear a mask and keep social distance.
King Tides are past for this season, but high tides continue. High water threatens pups on the beach. They can swim, but lack the stamina to survive in the ocean. If washed out, skinny young pups without insulating blubber to keep them warm and buoyant can drown.
Pups start nursing within a day or so of being born. Pups born in December are already being weaned. Look for rotund, fat pups.
Pups will nurse from any mother willing to tolerate them. Most pups nurse, or attempt to nurse, on at least one mother other than their own. Not every pup survives, and mothers whose pups have died may adopt one or more strays. Some mothers are hostile to other pups and other mothers and aggressively chase them away.
Mothers produce milk by metabolizing their blubber. They lose two pounds for every pound the pup gains. Look for thinner mothers lying next to fat pups.
Around 95 percent of pups at Piedras Blancas survive to be weaned.
Breeding and competition
As pups are weaned, mothers come into estrus, heat, like dogs. They mate before they return to the ocean.
Females in estrus spark battles between males. Most dominance interactions are easy to observe: One bull bellows or raises his head to challenge, and one or more others retreat.
But with breeding rights at stake, males are willing to fight. They bump chests and rip at each other’s chest shield, the crinkled skin around the neck, with their teeth. Battles can be bloody. Dominant males take no notice of pups or mothers as they chase each other across the beach.
Watch as two bulls challenge each other, and their conflict ripples through the rest of the seals. With new females arriving, pups born, pups being weaned, mothers mating and departing, the beach is in constant motion.
Bulls on other beaches
The bulls who lose those fights find other beaches to heal their wounds and rest up. Hearst Memorial State Beach at San Simeon Cove is especially popular with them. Seals have also hauled out on Moonstone Beach and other places. Unsuspecting beachgoers don’t expect to find a two-ton wild animal in the spot they planned to have a picnic.
Stay back from the seals, and don’t let the dog get near. Pick up a pocket guide from one of the plastic displays and follow the suggestions.
The seals are on the beach temporarily, during the breeding season. The Central Coast is fortunate to share its beaches with these iconic wildlife. People and seals can coexist.