• The Point Reyes Beach as viewed from the Point Reyes Headlands

    Point Reyes

    National Seashore California

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  • 2014 Harbor Seal Pupping Season Closures

    From March 1 through June 30, the park implements closures of certain Tomales Bay beaches and Drakes Estero to water-based recreation to protect harbor seals during the pupping season. Please avoid disturbing seals to ensure a successful pupping season. More »

  • 2014 Winter Shuttle Bus Operations Have Ended

    March 30, 2014, was the last day for the 2014 Winter Shuttle Bus System. Sir Francis Drake Blvd. is open daily from now through late December 2014. More »

  • Operational Changes Took Effect on May 1, 2013

    The Lighthouse Visitor Center is now only open Fridays through Mondays; closed Tuesdays through Thursdays, including Thanksgiving. The Kenneth C. Patrick Visitor Center is open on weekends and holidays when shuttles are operating. More »

Viewing Elephant Seals

Click on the following links to find out more about viewing opportunities for these species and to learn about their habitats and behaviors:

Birds ¦ Coho Salmon ¦ Elephant Seals ¦ Tule Elk ¦ Whales

 
Bull Elephant Seal

Bull Elephant Seal

After being absent for more than 150 years, elephant seals returned to the sandy Point Reyes Headlands in the early 1970s. In 1981, the first breeding pair was discovered near Chimney Rock. Since then, researchers have found that the colony is growing at a dramatic annual average rate of 16 percent. Fanning out from their initial secluded spot, the seals have expanded to popular beaches.

 
Graph depicting when elephant seals haul-out at Point Reyes.

Males, females, juveniles, and/or pups are visible at Point Reyes at various times throughout the year.

From December through March a breeding colony of elephant seals can be observed from Elephant Seal Overlook near Chimney Rock, above beautiful Drakes Bay. The males are the first to arrive here, in December, to stake out a claim on the beach. Then pregnant females begin to arrive and soon give birth to a single pup. Subadult and juvenile animals arrive and the colony can number close to one hundred animals.

From the Overlook you can witness the fascinating behavior of these animals, including male dominance contests, birthing of pups and the interactions of mothers and pups. You will hear the distinctive vocalizations of females, pups and the powerful trumpeting of the adult males (bulls) which can be heard for over a mile.

Check out our Weekly Elephant Seal updates to learn the latest news.

During weekends and holidays, highly trained docents staff the Overlook. They have binoculars, spotting scopes, and a wealth of information to share with you.

For more information, check out our Elephant Seals page, sfnps.org's Elephant Seals web pages, or our Elephant Seals Resource Newsletter (1,284 KB PDF - Adobe® Acrobat Reader® is needed to view PDF documents).

 

Important Note:
Due to the high volume of traffic out to the Lighthouse and Chimney Rock areas during the elephant seal pupping and mating season and the gray whale migration, the park will be operating a shuttle bus system from the Drakes Beach parking lot (usually from New Year's to Easter each year on weekends and holidays--weather permitting). Sir Francis Drake Boulevard from South Beach to the Lighthouse and Chimney Rock areas WILL BE CLOSED during shuttle operating hours. For more information call the Bear Valley Visitor Center at (415) 464-5100 x2 x1.

Seal viewing tips:

  • For your own safety, always observe elephant seals from a distance. Use binoculars and spotting scopes. If a seal becomes alert or nervous and begins to move away, you are too close.
  • Stay at least 100 feet from any marine mammal.
  • Do not come between a cow and pup, a bull and a group of cows, or two bulls challenging each other.
  • Watch quietly; whisper. Move slowly.
  • Bring your pets only where they are allowed.
  • Observe beach closures and restrictions.

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Did You Know?

Bull Elephant Seal © Richard Allen

Elephant seals (Mirounga angustirostris) regularly plunge to depths of 2000 feet to find food, but even far below the ocean's surface they are affected by warming temperatures and melting Antarctic ice. More...