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.

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.

 
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 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. Check the "Shuttles, Whales, and Elephant Seals" recording at 415-464-5100 x2 x3 x1 for updates on whether shuttles are operating.

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.

Seasonal Closures:
Dates for the 2017 elephant seal pupping season have yet to be determined. The following closures were implemented during the 2016 elephant seal pupping season.

Drakes Beach Temporary Beach Closure - February 4, 2016, through March 31, 2016
[Note: The closure was lifted on March 18, 2016, after a survey of the beach determined that there were no longer any nursing elephant seal pups in this area of Drakes Beach.]
A temporary closure of Drakes Beach starting approximately ¼ mile southwest of the Kenneth C. Patrick Visitor Center and continuing south to the current permanent elephant seal closure was in effect to better protect elephant seals from disturbance during the pupping season when they are exceptionally vulnerable. All public use was prohibited.
Determination of Temporary Closure - February 4 through March 31, 2016 - signed on February 3, 2016 (31 KB PDF)
Map of Temporary Closure - February 4 through March 31, 2016 (93 KB PDF)

Chimney Rock Fish Dock Area Temporary Closure - December 30, 2015, through March 15, 2016
A temporary closure of the road leading from the gate at the end of the Chimney Rock Road to the Fish Dock area, including immediately adjacent beaches, was in effect from December 30, 2015, through Tuesday, March 15, 2016, due to nursing elephant seal pups in the Fish Dock area.
Determination of Temporary Closure - December 30, 2015, through March 15, 2016 - signed on December 30, 2015 (25 KB PDF)
Map of Chimney Rock Fish Dock Area Temporary Closure (326 KB PDF)

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Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

1 Bear Valley Road
Point Reyes Station, CA 94956

Phone:

(415) 464-5100
This number will initially be answered by an automated attendant, from which one can opt to access a name directory, listen to recorded information about the park (i.e., directions to the park; visitor center hours of operation; weather forecast; fire danger information; shuttle bus system status; wildlife updates; ranger-led programs; seasonal events; etc.), or speak with a ranger. Please note that if you are calling between 4:30 pm and 10 am, park staff may not be available to answer your call.

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