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Contact: John A. Dell’Osso, 415-464-5135
Point Reyes National Seashore has topped the 1,000 mark for the number of elephant seals counted during weekly censuses during the breeding and pupping season. This year during of the peak of the season in late January and February, the park counted 1048 elephant seals along its shore. Already this winter season, over 400 elephant seal pups have been born—another record for the park.
After being absent for more than 150 years, elephant seals returned to the Point Reyes Headlands in the 1970s. In 1981, the first breeding pair and pup were discovered near Chimney Rock. Since then, researchers have found that the colony is growing at a dramatic annual average rate of 16 percent.
In the early 1900s, elephant seals were on the brink of extinction with only an estimated population of a few hundred to a few thousand on Guadalupe Island, Mexico. After protection from hunting, the population has bounced back to over 150,000 animals.
Elephant seal males can be up to 18 feet in length and weigh between 3,000 and 5,000 pounds. Females are up to 10 feet and 1,200 pounds. They spend approximately 80% of their time in the open ocean and can dive as deep as 5,000 feet and be under water up to nearly two hours.
The total population, including all age classes, for Point Reyes is estimated at 2,000 to 2,500 animals. The best viewing area for elephant seals is the overlook near the Chimney Rock parking lot. The elephant seals can be viewed from now until mid-March at which time the pups are weaned from their mothers and head out to sea in April.
The annual shuttle bus program is currently in operation. Operating only on weekends and holidays until early April, the popular shuttle bus program runs from Drakes Beach to the Lighthouse and then on to Chimney Rock before returning to Drakes Beach. Park visitors need to purchase tickets at Drakes Beach on the day you intend to ride the buses from 9:00 am to 3:00 pm. No advance reservations are required. The price is $4.oo for adults and children 16 and under are free.