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20-Year Celebration | Newspaper Quotes | E-Seal News 1998 - 2010 | Photos

Timeline of the Elephant Seals at Piedras Blancas | Accomplishments | Docent Journal Entries | Docent Interviews



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People on the beachFriends of the Elephant Seal (FES) was formed as part of a long-term solution to problems that occurred as a result of human and seal interaction. In 1990 elephant seals started using the beaches at Piedras Blancas in large numbers. As the population grew, they expanded to adjacent beaches. By 1994 the seals were using a beach that could be seen from Highway 1, and then the problems began.


Motorists parked on the emergency shoulder of the highway, broke through fencing, and trespassed on private property to look at the seals. As many as 50 vehicles lined the road at one time. Tour bus drivers parked illegally to offload passengers. An enforcement officer stated, "Parents were allowing their young children to touch the animals so they could get better pictures.” On one occasion someone was observed trying to put clothes on an elephant seal. Several people were bitten; one man developed a hematoma the size of a football. A state park ranger stated, “People are getting far too close to the wild animals. It’s a total suspension of common sense.”


State and federal agencies scrambled to find a solution. An interim elephant seal management plan was drafted. Part of the plan was to create safe elephant seal viewing and parking areas. As part of the realignment of a section of Highway 1, two privately owned turnouts were acquired by Caltrans to be used as parking areas. The plan also called for a biological assessment of the colony, fencing, signage, and formation of a group of volunteers to provide information to visitors about the elephant seals and safe wildlife viewing.    


A grant was obtained in 1997 to provide funding for development of the Friends of the Elephant Seal. The first docent training began on November 1, 1997. On Thanksgiving weekend docents interacted with over 1,000 people. FES became a formal non-profit organization in March 1998.


The important role FES docents play as nature interpreters was recognized in 2000 when the group received the prestigious national Environmental Hero Award.

Construction of boardwalks halted erosion and provided safe viewing platforms. The south boardwalk was constructed in 2003, and the north boardwalk was completed in 2010.

In 2005 escrow closed on a groundbreaking conservation easement between the American Land Conservancy and the Hearst Corporation. Lands west of Highway 1 became part of California State Parks.

In 2011 Friends of the Elephant Seal became a California State Parks Cooperating Association, which enabled sale of merchandise at the bluff and installation of a webcam on the south boardwalk.       


By the end of 2016, FES docents had documented over 2 million personal visitor contacts during its first 20 years.


In 2017 FES began celebrating 20 years of successful service.





20-Year Celebration | Newspaper Quotes | E-Seal Newsletters 1998 - 2010 | Photos

Timeline of the Elephant Seals at Piedras Blancas | Accomplishments | Docent Journal Entries | Docent Interviews


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Photo contributions by Phil Adams, Joan Crowder, Peter Hemming, Brandt Kehoe, Tim Postiff & Nancy McKarney