The elephant seals in Cambria, Calif., are northern elephant seals, according to the Marine Mammal Center. They are one of two species of elephant seal, and they range from the northern Pacific coast of Canada, along the western coast of the United States, and south along the Pacific coast of Mexico. The second species are southern elephant seals that live on the coasts of New Zealand, South Africa and Argentina.
Elephant seals are the largest seals in the world. The adult males have large noses that resemble an elephant’s trunk. Males begin developing this enlarged nose at 3 years old, and they grow to more than 13 feet long and weigh up to 4,500 pounds. Females are smaller. They grow to 10 feet and weigh up to 1,500 pounds. Northern elephant seals are slightly smaller than southern elephant seals. They have a broad, round face with very large eyes. They are in the phocid, or seal family, because they lack ear flaps and move on land by flopping their bellies.
Each winter northern elephant seals arrive at their breeding beaches in Mexico and California. This gathering is called a rookery. Several days after coming onto the beaches, the females give birth to baby pups. For the next two months, weaned pups remain on the rookery beaches, venturing into the water for short periods of times. The northern elephant seal is a conservation success story. Elephant seals were hunted to the brink of extinction, but they have grown in number. As of 2014, the northern elephant seal population is approximately 150,000, with around 124,000 residing in California.