Drakes Beach at Point Reyes is closed until mid-March to make way for thousands upon thousands of enormous, smelly, honking elephant seals congregating on the shoreline for pupping season and prompting the National Park Service to step in for safety’s sake.
Elephant seals are enormous marine carnivores that can grow to lengths of 20 feet and weigh in at four and a half tons. Infamously territorial, the males will go so far as to attack cars they feel are infringing on their space.
And yet, NPS says that the closure is actually for the sake of protecting the seals themselves:
A temporary closure of Drakes Beach starting at the southern edge of the cove in front of the Ken Patrick Visitor Center and continuing south to the current permanent elephant seal closure is in effect to better protect elephant seals from disturbance during the pupping season when they are exceptionally vulnerable. All public use is prohibited.
Once endangered with a population of perhaps as little as 1,000 in 1910 thanks to overhunting, NPS says that the resurgent population returned to Pt Reyes after decades of absence in the early 1970s.
According to National Geographic, elephant seal females “give birth in late winter to a single pup and nurse it for approximately a month,” after an 11-month long pregnancy.
Both the mothers and pups are largely sessile during this crucial period and the babies can’t even swim, leaving them almost entirely defenseless, so for the protection of the population the park wants to keep folks out “through Thursday, Marc h 15, 2018, or as long as there are nursing elephant seal pups in this area of Drakes Beach, whichever is shorter.”
The San Francisco Chronicle notes that this is the largest number of seals ever recorded at the beach, and that more of the young pups seem to be surviving the winters.