Viewing Elephant Seals
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.
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 Drakes Beach colony can number close to nine 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 and pups, as well as the powerful trumpeting of the adult males (referred to as "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 Elephant Seal Overlook. They have binoculars, spotting scopes, and a wealth of information to share with you.
Winter Shuttle Bus System
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. Check the "Shuttles, Whales, and Elephant Seals" recording at 415-464-5100 x2 x3 x1 for updates on whether shuttles are operating.
Please note: Due to the Lighthouse Restoration Project, the shuttle bus will not be stopping in the lighthouse area for the majority of the 2018–2019 shuttle bus season.
Seal viewing tips
Feeding or Harassing Marine Mammals in the Wild is Illegal and Harmful to the Animals
Why is it illegal to feed, attempt to feed, or harass marine mammals in the wild?
Feeding, attempting to feed, and harassment of marine mammals in the wild by anyone is prohibited by regulations enacted under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
Feeding, attempting to feed, or otherwise harassing marine mammals in the wild was made illegal because it is harmful to the animals in the following ways:
How is "harassment" defined under the Marine Mammal Protection Act?
Harassment means any act of pursuit, torment, or annoyance that has the potential to injure a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild (Level A harassment); or that has the potential to disturb a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild by causing disruption of behavioral patterns, including, but not limited to, migration, breathing, nursing, breeding, feeding, or sheltering, but does not have the potential to injure a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild (Level B harassment).
More information on this topic may be found on the National Marine Fisheries Service's Frequent Questions – Feeding or Harassing Marine Mammals in the Wild page.
From December 15 to March 31, the following areas are closed to all entry in order to better protect nursing elephant seal pups:
Drakes Beach Temporary Beach Closure - Dates for the 2019 elephant seal pupping season have yet to be determined. The dates in 2018 were from January 13 through March 15.
Last updated: December 15, 2018