Posts Tagged ‘highway 1’

Directly alongside Highway 1 it is possible to witness one of nature’s most extraordinary spectacles.  Behold!  A beach full of snorting, sand-tossing, sun-bathing, breeding, molting, fighting, enormous Northern Elephant Seals (Mirounga angustirostris).  Practically in our backyards in Piedras Blancas, we are fortunate enough to observe these magnificent marine mammals from only feet away.  For eight months out of the year, these pinnipeds spend their lives out in the open ocean, only to come ashore after swimming nearly 12,000 miles to mate in late November, give birth, and raise their pups.

On the beaches, massive males fight for dominance, often leaving each other bloody and tattered. The seals form harems, with a male surrounded by several females and their offspring.  The alpha male spends a good deal of his time keeping betas away from his ladies, and it is quite a scene to see a several ton male move with surprising speed across the sand to ward off competitors.  When feeding, the adults can reach depths of 5,000 feet and spend from 20 minutes to an hour under water.  Females search primarily for squid while males are thought to pursue a different diet of sharks, rays, and bottom-dwelling fish.  In their quest for dinner, males travel along the continent to the Gulf of Alaska and females head out towards the open sea before returning to their rookery on the Central Coast.  Northern Elephant Seals can live up to 14 years in the wild, making the migration multiple times once reaching maturity.

During the 1880’s Northern Elephant Seals were hunted almost to extinction by shore whalers for their blubber and oil.  Only between 20-100 of them remained off of Baja California before being protected by the Mexican government, and later the United States.  Today, the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 keeps them secure and on the road to restoring their numbers.  Today, their populations have grown to 170,000 and continue to increase.  Organizations such as Friends of the Elephant Seal have taken it upon themselves to educate the public about the remarkable animals, and offer docent lectures, live web cams, and visitor center.

Get in touch with nature and view these magnificent marine mammals before they take off for another year!


It’s November here on the Central Coast, which means thousands of little winged tourists are beginning to stop by on their way south to overwinter in Mexico or rest in California’s warmer climate, escaping the northern chill.  Looking up into branches of  the eucalyptus and pine trees of the Pismo Beach Monarch Grove this month, you can start to see the hundreds of monarch butterflies flitting overhead, creating softly pulsing traffic patterns in the air. Towards nightfall, the butterflies cluster like big orange leaves in the canopy to keep warm, protect themselves from predators and resist winds that could possibly dislodge them.  The docents of the Grove (which officially opened to the public October 29) set up telescopes to give visitors clear views of the brightly colored insects and offer lectures about these extraordinary little creatures throughout their stay ending in February.

Located along Highway 1 on the Southern end of Pismo Beach inside the North Beach Campground, the colony of butterflies living there is the largest in the country, hosting an average of over 25,000 monarchs. As juveniles, the caterpillars feed on milkweed which makes them toxic and distasteful to most predators. Adults feed on the nectar of a variety of flowering plants, and drink little to no water during their migration. Once settled, they sip on dew or fresh water close to their roosting sites.

The butterflies return to the same group of trees each year, having migrated thousands of miles to reach their destination.    Generations arriving at their winter vacation home are different than the butterflies that started the journey, and how they orient themselves back to the same location each year is still a mystery. The monarchs typically live for about six weeks, meaning that many of the migrating creatures never see either their starting point up north nor their destination site down here. Once they reach their southern sanctuary, the winter generation enjoys a live span of about six months! In the spring they head north again, and the following generations resume the 6-week life span.

For directions and more information on the Pismo Monarch Grove, visit their website for details.  To learn more about the life cycle of the majestic monarch, visit the Grove’s FAQ page, or attend a talk in person!