Each year, park rangers at Ano Nuevo State Park in San Mateo County lead tours so that the public can see the colony of elephant seals that mate, give birth and leave their pups to fend for themselves along this stretch of the Pacific Ocean.
Elephant seals used to be slaughtered for their oil in the 1800s, but because of strict federal laws against hunting them, now number about 150,000 in the United States. The first elephant seal was sighted at Ano Nuevo in 1955, and now, there are typically 2,000 pups born here each breeding season.
Breeding season begins in December and the pups are born later that month. The pups are weaned in March, and start to head out to sea by the end of April.
Ranger-led tours are the only way to get up close and personal with the seals through breeding season: Dec. 15 to March 31. Tours cost $7 a person. For more information on the mammals and making reservations, click here.