A few weeks ago we went to sea the largest breeding colony of northern elephant seals in the world at Ano Nuevo State Reserve along the San Mateo coastline. The breeding season begins in the end of December and lasts through mid-March with the peak between the last week of January and first week of February. We were lucky to join a docent-led tour of the colony on a warm and sunny winter day. It was amazing to see the thousands of seals packed on the beach, including hundreds of seal pups! The guides are also highly knowledgeable providing interesting details about elephant seal behavior and the history of Ano Nuevo.
It was sad to learn of the destructive power of humans, at one point hunting the seals to near extinction by the end of the nineteenth century. Fortunately, since the early twentieth century, the northern elephant seals are protected under law in both the U.S. and Mexico and their population has now recovered to over 100,000. The growth is evident at Ano Nuevo as the colony has expanded to beaches that were previously empty.
Our tour started at 12:30 pm and the high angle of the sun washed out lots of the detail in the photography. I imagine the best light for photography can be achieved on the morning tours. Also, since the viewing areas are slightly above and away from the seals, I recommend a camera with superior zoom capacity to capture details. Tours during the breeding season are immensely popular so I would make sure you make a reservation well in advance, particularly for weekend trips.