Best Friends-For Now (photo credit: Phil Arnold)

With the arrival of summer, the Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery is welcoming sub-adult males and the early arriving adult male elephant seals for their summer molt.  Unlike when the adult males come to the rookery in the winter months for the birthing and mating season, visitors will not see aggressive fights for beach territory during this season.  For the summer molt, the big guys seem to enjoy each other.  They often rest jammed into a tight group on the beach. 

     The change in behavior, of course, is all about the reason for their visit to the beach.  Finding and holding onto beach real estate to host a harem of females is one thing; finding bit of rest as new skin grows in to replace the old skin is entirely a different matter.  The summer molting season for the sub-adult and adult males will continue throughout the summer, but each seal will only stay on the beach for about one month.

     At the rookery there is a never-ending rotation of seals returning and leaving.  It can be thought of as being like a beach timeshare.  Visitors to the rookery will notice that at the beginning of the adult male molting season and again at its ending later in the summer, there are also smaller juvenile elephant seals on the beach.  Early arrivals for one season will mix with the late departures from the previous season. 

     Many visitors think the smaller juveniles and the large adult males are different types of seals.  This is understandable because of the differences in their looks.  The juveniles are not only much smaller, but they are also lacking the characteristic proboscis of the adult males.  While occasionally a harbor seal or sea lion may visit the beach at the rookery, such visits from other types of seals are rare.  One way for visitors to check if the smaller seal is an elephant seal is to look at the seal’s whiskers.  If the seal has black whiskers, then it is an elephant seal.