February 7, 2023

We get to see rare elephant seals close up!

By John Guy LaPlante 

Off I go with visiting family to behold an animal spectacle nearby it’s unlikely you will ever get to see.

That is, unless you happen to come upon an old issue of National Geographic or The Smithsonian.

I am talking of elephant seals.

Of course, if your community library is a good one, you might happen upon a DVD that shows it all.

We were going off by car to see why and how the elephant seals actually rook here every year.

But what the heck are elephant seals?!

They are sea animals that come up on shore for a few days to have their young.

They are called elephant seals because the males have a proboscis, a long snout that looks a lot like the trunk of an elephant but much shorter.

I hope to find a picture or two to show you. A video would be even better.

As I said, their rooking is quite a sight.

It takes place once a year on a Pacific beach some 40 miles up the seashore road from Morro Bay, CA.

Here is a photo of elephant seals from https://elephantseal.org/
They have a live beach camera and
online shop too: https://elephantseal.org/product/large-elephant-seal-plush/

As many of you know, I have been living here in Morro Bay for a few years, close to my daughter Monique and her husband David.

That elephant seal beach is some 10 miles north of the Hearst Castle.

The road goes right by the famous castle, luxurious beyond words, that was created by newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst at San Simeon high on a mountaintop. It attracts tourists from all over the country and even beyond.

So that was quite an extra nice sight to get to see as we drove by.

The elephant seals return every year from the Gulf of Alaska to this very beach.

And here they give birth to their pups.

The bulls also mate with the cows, competing with other bulls for the privilege.

The bulls come back twice a year, in the summer to molt and in the winter to breed and birth calves, year in and year out.

Bulls and cows migrate to different places. Bulls to the Gulf of Alaska and cows to the great, wife-open Pacific, plunging back into the saltwater and heading northwest to where they came from.

And next year the elephant seals will return to this same little beach for a few weeks, in the summer to molt for a repeat of this drama.

In the meanwhile, nothing unusual will take place on this little beach. It will be similar to so many other beaches along the shoreline.

But every year some local people are so enthralled by this brief natural occurrence that they drive to this beach time and again to see this natural spectacle take place.

As for me, I’ve lived here in Morro Bay close to a decade now, or so it seems. All to be close to my daughter Monique and her husband David.

It’s about a 40-mile drive to that little beach above Cambria. It was only my second time to go. All to see that spectacle.

Destination: Elephant Seals!

Got to tell you there was no headline in the local papers that I’m aware of that proclaimed “The Elephant Seals Are Back!”

The fact is that my son-in-law David just knew this was the time. And he did not need a calendar to remind him.

He just loves living close to the ocean. He can see it from the front porch of his home here high on a hill.

In the morning he steps out onto the porch to take a look at the ocean.

More than once I’ve stood on that porch with him. And I’ve commented, “David, to me the sky is much more interesting than the water.

You know, the interesting cloud patterns. The Sun beaming down on the clouds, constantly changing the scene. And at night, the Moon rising above!!”

But David just doesn’t buy that.

Every fair day of the year at low tide when the sand has become hard packed, he power-walks on the beach, meaning he walks just short of running on it.

By the way, according to astronomers, it is the Sun and the Moon that determine all over the world how tides, high and low, will take place twice a day.

And thus at exactly what time in the morning it would be best for David to take his power walk on the beach.

But for him, I’m sure a half hour one way or the other would make zero difference at what time he should be out there to walk.

Well, we had relatives visiting us — my son Arthur and his dear wife Marita and their daughter Elise, who is my granddaughter, of course, all just arrived from far-off Florida. Arthur said he had other things to attend to. Or maybe he felt there wasn’t enough room in the car with my big folding / rolling wheelchair and all.

My daughter Monique had seen them several times before and was needed at her office.

Our guests did not ask to go see the elephant seals. They knew very little, if anything, about them. In fact, didn’t know they exist.

To repeat, David just knew they would be greatly interested in seeing the huge animals. Who wouldn’t be?

After all, they are an AAA tourist attraction.

And he took me along for the ride.

I felt bad for my son Arthur.

I thought he wasn’t with us because there was not enough room in David’s car, with my big folding / rolling wheelchair and all.

He was a good sport about it. Said he had some private affairs to take care of.

My daughter Monique didn’t come because she had done the trip before with David and she was needed at her office.

David’s including me was not easy for him, believe me. That’s because I now have a hard time walking unassisted at home, which is on a single floor, mind you. I now walk with two canes.

And just recently I wrote to you about my swollen-leg condition called lymphedema. My legs from my toes right up to close to my knees swell with fluid, becoming twice normal size.

What’s the cure? There is none. It’s not a sickness or a disease. It is a condition, life-long, sad to say.

In the morning I have to put on very, very tight compression stockings to keep my legs from swelling. Thank God there’s no pain involved in any of this.

No way can I put these on by myself.

David comes over in the morning and puts them on me. In the evening my daughter Monique comes and removes them, soothes them with a special lotion, and puts ordinary stockings on me for the night. This goes on seven days a week, week in and week out.

And so it meant that on this excursion David would have to push me in a  folding / rolling wheelchair — a fine wheelchair intended for nice, smooth, very even surfaces inside or outside.

“No problem, John,” he said more than once when he invited me along.

But I knew that he knew that this would be a huge job for him. But as usual he would make light of it.

So there would be four of us on this excursion. David and me and my daughter-in-law Marita and my granddaughter Elise, herself a grown-up adult.

David parked at the very end of the parking lot, as close to the viewing area as he could get us, with stern warnings posted of stiff fines for anybody bothering the elephant seals in any way.

But the seals’ beach was closed off to us by a heavy fence.

It was a cold gray day with a sharp wind. David had told us to make sure to wear warm hats and jackets.

The Pacific Ocean stretched out in front of us. There were just half a dozen other tourists there.

Probably first-timers, come from long distances probably to see the elephant seals for the first time.

By the way, this was not a nice, smooth, blacktopped parking area. This was very rough and uneven gravel.

David had to use a lot of muscle to push me up close to the viewing area.

The elephant seals were still out of sight. They were on a broad beach below us. We were on a mound looking down on them. There were more than a hundred of them.

Some were huge. The males. The size of a big pickup truck, so to speak. Some absolutely still. Then one would wake up and with a strong swish with one of its two flippers spread sand over itself.

The females were smaller, about half the size of the males.

One of the males would rouse himself and waddle to one of the females. To have sex, but that happened only in the winter.

Some of the females had pups at their side, and were not in the mood to be bothered.

It was that these elephant seals had to make a huge swim to get here.

Over the years marine scientists must have tagged some and found out that way. Maybe these studies are ongoing.

And these elephant seals swam to this very cove every year to give birth to their young, repeating the cycle year after year.

David told us this was not so.

There were other coves north and south of here.

Some elephant seals would make landfall at one of them, in time returning to more than one or two of them.

This cove was famous because it was close to the highway, and close enough for visitors like us to get to see them quite easily.

Others were in coves too far from any highway to make it possible for people to get to see them there.

For sure the story that the seals came back here every year was terrific for the local economy, with numerous motels and restaurants and shopping centers and gas stations and souvenir shops nearby.

Oh, on the way home a thick, cold fog had come in and there was no way we could see the world-famous San Simeon Hearst Castle high on its mountain top. What a shame.

Well, even with one difficulty after another, we had a wonderful time.

I am sure that my daughter-in-law Marita and my granddaughter Elise will never forget their visit here to the cove famous for elephant seals returning year after year to give birth to their young, repeating the cycle time and again.

For me what was most meaningful was that it was a rare family outing, from my point of view unlikely to take place again. I’m grateful for that.


  1. Michel Talbot says

    Allô!my Friend Jean Guy,happy to Read you ; ton article est très intéressant,tu me décris tes enfants et j’ai l’impression de les connaître,on part dans l’ouest Canadien : en train et en avion Vancouver BC.Adios MT.

  2. Leonard Poulin says

    Hi John,

    Thanks for the story and the link to the live cam. It’s really fun to watch the elephant seals live from 3,000 away. Yesterday, July 3, there were many active seals on the beach shuffling around. Today, July 4, I only see a couple of seals resting or sleeping. It’s always nice to read your posts.

    As always,

  3. Bev Miller says

    Hi John,
    Great story! I have never seen them so the live cam is kind of neat to watch. So nice that Arthur and Marita and their Daughter are there. Always nice to see family! It’s been a very long time since I have seen them, I still remember typing Arthur’s papers for college. Well if they are still their, enjoy their company and tell them I said hi! I look forward to your stories all the time!

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