Ellie Seal Pups~

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Piedras Blancas in California has a thriving rookery of Northern Elephant Seals, a sub-species of the largest seals in the world reaching up to 5000 pounds and 16 feet in length. Pups are born here mostly in the month of January.

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Births peak mid January.
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Over 5000 births occur annually here. Some nice mamas like this one, feed pups other than their own!

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Elephant seals nurse for about a month, during this time, mothers stay with pups continuously and do not return to to the sea to feed until weaning is complete.

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Elephant Seal milk is the richest milk in the mammalian world, which it needs to be since elephant seals grow so rapidly. This cheeky seagull pecked this little pup causing him to unlatch during nursing, releasing milk, which the seagull tried to drink!

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Mama obviously did not approve!
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There are still newborns in the rookery now, identifiable by their neonatal folds.

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Maternal infant bonds are evident and strong! Mamas can be seen frequently kissing pups.
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Northern Elephant Seal populations were hunted to the brink of extinction and by the late 1800’s there were under 100 of them left worldwide. The species has made a remarkable come-back due to conservation efforts and marine mammal protections.

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Cheers to you from the friendly ellie-pups at Piedras Blancas Rookery~

To see how big these little guys will grow check out my post from a year ago about the bulls:
https://cindyknoke.com/tag/northern-bull-elephant-seal-mating-behavior/

220 thoughts on “Ellie Seal Pups~

  1. I never tire of seeing the way the mamas of any mammal care for and feed their young. Such a touching scene to see their gentle nature demonstrated in so many ways.

  2. Marvelous photos. I’d seen seal colonies along the coast of CA, but never the pups. The mamas with the big soulful eyes and tender looks are so touching. Thanks so much for such a delightful treat.

  3. SO cute! Amazing that the males will grow to be an intimidating 5,000 pounds, wow! Thanks for the close-ups of the little ones as well as the interesting facts. 🙂

    • The rookery is close to you Lynn about a two hour drive with no traffic. The pups are all over now and it is an amazing sight. The mating will be starting anyday. You might want to head over~

      • Oh what a great idea Cindy! Hmm, that would make an amazing day trip with my nephews too. The oldest one has developed a great fascination with marine life too. Thanks for the idea! 🙂

        • Do it! The only deal is the mating is quite violent and will be happening soon now. I have never seen it live, only on video, and don’t want to see it, so depending on your nephew’s ages it might not be appropriate.There is no mating now. But there will be shortly. After mating, only the pups are left on the beach, and they stay for a month by themselves, until they get really hungry, and finally risk the trip to the sea. This month long period when the pups are alone on the beach, would be an incredible time to bring your nephews! It is coming up relatively soon. Check with the Piedras Blancas website. I think they would remember this all their lives.

          • Thanks for the tips! I’ll keep timing in mind (as yeah, my nephews aren’t quite ready to see any blood). I’ve been trying to find ways to entertain them and just re-watched some of my childhood favorites (Secret of Nihm and Dark Crystal), saw a couple of instances with stabbings and went, “Uhhh… Nope!” However, the adult male elephant seals take it to a whole ‘nother level!

            • Oh The Secret OF NIMH, first the book, and then the movie, such brilliance. Plus I worked for NIMH for almost ten years! Laughing…..My kids read and saw both. You do see why we relate!

    • The short answer is twin birth is very rare, accounting for less then 1% of all elephant seal birth in one observational study. The female fasts during the month she nurses her pups and if she shares milk, pup weight will be negatively affected. Apparently elephant seals will sometimes adopt other cubs though so this would seem to produce a similar weight related effect. So it is a complicated question with complicated answers, so let’s just settle on not usually! 😉

  4. Cute aren’t they. I remember seeing so many on my train trip from Picton to Kaikora in NZ. They just lazed about on the rocks. In Loncolnshire, we saw a single seal in the River Witham on one occasion, and Hubby saw an otter here last year. Wildlife never ceases to amaze me. Beautiful shots.

  5. Great captures and amazing story of nursing young/baby elephant seals. The mothers are kind enough to nurse other babies other than their own. I quite sure that help their society bonded together from day one. That was a great observation of mother seal kisses her babies often. That is lovely!

      • That would be great; you are so lucky! Here in Greece we don’t really have organized wildlife reserves, were we could actually observe the animals in their natural habitat … <3

  6. What wonderful photos, Cindy! We were treated to seal pups when we were in the Galapagos. Totally unafraid and wanting to play when we were in the water. Would come up to us and nudge us or nip our toes if we were just sitting by the water. Could not touch! Hardest thing I ever didn’t do!

    • Oh what a wonderful experience! They will be alone on the beach soon for several weeks and I wonder what it would be like to be with them at this time. Amazing, I’d bet~ᶘ ᵒᴥᵒᶅ

    • Well Oscar, if you can convince 2000 pound mama and 5000 pound guarding papa to let you have some milk, I would love to try your cheese!!!! 😉 😉 ᶘ ᵒᴥᵒᶅ

      • Once a very back-hallow neighbor asked why we milked goats. I wryly quipped, “Have you ever tried milking a deer”. She knew what I meant. TSA does not like when we bring home-made goat cheese on flights to CA. But, it is solid & has passed their various wipe-down tests. Hmmph. 😉

  7. Thank goodness for conservationists and people, like you, who care! <3 What a treasured glimpse into the lives of these animals…thank you for sharing with us! I'll never get to see this scene in person so I'm all the more grateful for your post.

      • LOL – the gulls crowd out the crows when I throw scraps of food out to them, but I did see one crow grab a seagull by the wing-tip and drag it away so that the other crows could get to the food! It was hilarious to see.
        XD

        • You are perceptive! Seagulls are so incredibly intelligent, the only bird that trumps them in their environment, are raptors, and corvids (ravens and crows). Seriously intelligent birds, all of them. So happy you are watching them. They teach us the most important things. Be well my friend~

  8. Cindy, I am continually in awe of your stunning photographs! These are amazing, and so interesting about the elephant seals. You must just stalk the nature areas and have the longest telephoto lens in the world. Didn’t get too many pics yesterday of the snow geese at the Colusa Wildlife Refuge 🙁 Too much water, so too deep for them to feed. They apparently had dinner elsewhere!

  9. Aw, they’re so sweet, both mamas and babes! Thank you for getting up close so we who’ve never been to the refuge can see them. Don’t you love their little whiskers?!?

    • They wander around, get lost, and then cry. The rookery is crowded and the adults so massive, they really can get lost. Some mamas bite the lost little ones, and others nurse them. Seems kinda like differential personality distribution in humans!

  10. I loved your narrative, Cindy. What a sweet set of photos. I first saw elephant seals at Ano Nuevo here in Northern California. We were allowed to get about twenty feet away, which, given the size of the bulls was plenty close. I’m so happy they’ve come back from the brink.

    • I have heard a lot about Ano Neuvo and will visit someday. I am so glad there are established colonies in both places and I hope protections stay in place so they do not become extinct! In San Simeon the seals spread far past the rookery, with beaches full of adolescents, males and female adults. One must be careful not to get too close because you can walk along the road side and there is a massive male around the corner!

  11. Wow! These seals are huge and the pups – super cute. I like the seagull photos. Funny. Don’t mess with a Mama! Thank you for introducing me to these precious seals. I am thankful they are making a comeback.I just googled them Southern elephant seals are even bigger. Holy moly! I am guessing the Northern seal is still endangered. Fantastic photos. 💚

    • Actually the northern elephant seal is no longer endangered which is an amazing conservation success story considering there were much less then 100 left alive in the entire world, but like all species, they are dependent upon the goodwill of humans in order to remain alive. And yes, those southern elephant seals are very big boys! I saw them in the southern ocean. Incredible creatures. You did some good research here Nancy. I am impressed, and the elephant seals, and I, thank you.

  12. Nothing like up close and personal. Strangely enough, the thing I remember the one time I got that close to a rookery was – seal breath! Not for the faint of heart.

    • I didn’t smell this. They don’t eat while in the rookery, so I assumed this was why there was no odor. I have been there a couple of times and never smelled anything, but I did hear the bellowing bulls, and crying calves. Interested that you noticed odor and wonder why I didn’t?

  13. Oh Cindy, they look so adorable! I’m amazed, they are huge (well, the name says it all, doesn’t it) and quite different to the grey seals with their white pups on our coast …
    Hooray for conservation efforts and marine mammal protections! And hooray for your fabulous post! 🙂

  14. I laugh remembering what a devoted mom I was because I hardly ate warm let alone hot food when my son was young. To think of going without food for a month. Now that is maternal love and dedication. Loved all the photos but especially the first one. He looks like he needs his nose kissed.

  15. Oh my favorite! I miss these guys. We visited Piedras Blancas often. If the weather cooperates I hope to see them at Ano Nuevo at the end of February.

  16. So many babies!! What an interesting animal– Is Piedras Blancas a beach near Cambria? We saw elephant seals there once, but I don’t remember the name the beach. Your photography is amazing Cindy. thanks blog-friend!!

    • Yes, it is next to Cambria and is where you saw the ellies! They now stretch for a long way along the coast starting at Piedras Blancas. Thank you Rhonda for such thoughtful comments!
      ( •̀ ω•́ )

  17. I can’t believe I missed this gorgeous post!
    Well, now I found it & the seal pups are adorable. I’m very heart sick and humiliated that our last Prime Minister reinstated the Pup Seal hunt in Labrador. I hope this changes.
    In the meantime, Gulls will be Gulls! I laughed at the one in your post trying to get some milk. I thought I’d seen every sneaky Gull trick in the book. Hahha! My fave is when they pretend to be ducks.

    • Gulls stole silver napkin rings for years off the outdoor tables of a posh hotel restaurant where I grew up. No one knew what they did with them. Years later they were restoring the hotel’s bell tower and found a pile of years worth of stolen silver napkin rings!
      When my son was three we were at the beach for Easter. He was given a little mechanical yellow duck. A gull swooped down and stole it from him. He looked at the gull closely and told me, “Don’t worry. He will bring it back.”
      I tried to let him down gently, telling him the gull would not do that, but he was unconvinced.
      Hours later as we were packing up to leave the gull swooped back down and dropped the duck in the sand. Matt retrieved it and the mechanical motor was neatly pecked out of the duck. He looked at me and said, “You didn’t believe me. I told you he would bring it back.”
      Since that day I have had a great respect for gulls, and the mystery of human/ wild animal relationships.

  18. Your posts are always fascinating and informative, Cindy. I don’t always have time to read the many interesting comments you elicit (and am frequently remiss in adding to them) – but I love following you. Your photos are amazing, btw. (overused word, but apt in this case).

    “Awwww” inspiring: mama kidding baby seal. HOW can man justify hunting these creatures?
    xx,
    mgh
    (Madelyn Griffith-Haynie – ADDandSoMuchMORE dot com)
    ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching co-founder
    “It takes a village to educate a world!”

  19. Wonderful post, Cindy. I love the details you share…like the seagull trying to feed on the milk and the folds of skin on the neonates. Where to next? I’m enjoying your adventures!

    • Well, next you and I are going (you’re coming with me right?) to Eastern Europe, Greece, Alsace and Germany for six weeks. We have an apartment in Alsace for two weeks where I plan to eat, cook and not gain weight. I haven’t figured out precisely how I am going to do this yet!

  20. I hope people someday don’t feel the need you’ll any wild animals when fish, other animals can be multiplied in captivity. I still eat farm grown chicken, pork and beef. I also agree people can not eat animal meat, if you want to keep and protect all animals.

  21. Those pups are just so cute — their wrinkles and whiskers and big eyes. The scavenging seagull’s behaviour doesn’t surprise me. They’re good at edging towards something and going for the grab, and of course, they love pecking the top of milk bottles, so why not get in on the action when it’s on “seal tap”? In my town, seagulls snatch sandwiches out of people’s hands.

    • Gulls stole silver napkin rings for years off the outdoor tables of a posh hotel restaurant where I grew up. No one knew what they did with them. Years later they were restoring the hotel’s bell tower and found a pile of years worth of stolen silver napkin rings!
      When my son was three we were at the beach for Easter. He was given a little mechanical yellow duck. A gull swooped down and stole it from him. He looked at the gull closely and told me, “Don’t worry. He will bring it back.”
      I tried to let him down gently, telling him the gull would not do that, but he was unconvinced.
      Hours later as we were packing up to leave the gull swooped back down and dropped the duck in the sand. Matt retrieved it and the mechanical motor was neatly pecked out of the duck. He looked at me and said, “You didn’t believe me. I told you he would bring it back.”
      Since that day I have had a great respect for gulls, and the mystery of human/ wild animal relationships.

      • Oh, Cindy, those are two such wonderful stories. I guess that seagull was just checking the mechanical yellow duck to see if there was any food inside, although it was odd that your son knew it would return the toy to him. Where those silver napkins in a state worthy of restoration, or had the gulls pecked them too badly and the silver tarnished beyond recovery?

        • I love it that you resonate with these true seagull tales Sarah! Thank you. The world is full of fabulous mystery isn’t it. I have no idea if the napkins rings were polishable and I do think you are right about the motor. Seagulls are really smart. He may have wanted to figure out what the motor was all about. Why he brought it back and how Matthew knew this stands as one of those amazing mysteries that children and wild creatures can bring us. <3

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