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Numerous Baby Elephant Seals in California Killed by January's High Tides and Strong Storms

elephant seal
elephant seal

Getty Baby elephant seal

It has been a tough start to 2023 for baby elephant seals at the Piedras Blancas Rookery, north of San Simeon, California.

High tides and January storms in the area — a popular location for elephant seals to give birth —have resulted in the death of many newborn pups. Numerous young animals were washed away by the elements, Santa Barbara County's Noozhawk reported.

King tides, the highest tides of the year, washed over the beaches on Jan. 14 and 15, taking numerous days old baby elephant seals with them, Noozhawk said. In the days before the king tides, other seal pups were washed away by the relentless rainstorms that soaked California throughout January.

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The elephant seals who gave birth before the storms likely lost their pups, as few baby elephant seals remained on the rookery's beaches by mid-January, according to Noozhawk.

The exact number of January baby seal deaths at the Piedras Blancas Rookery is still being calculated, marine mammal ecologists told the Sacramento Bee.

The outlet added that newborn elephant seals are particularly vulnerable to getting washed away because they can't swim on their own until they are several weeks old.

Mother elephant seals often try to put their body between their babies and turbulent waves, but January's stronger storms made it more difficult for mother seals to protect their pups, McClatchy News reported.

elephant seals
elephant seals

Getty Elephant seals

Unfortunately, the looming threat of bad weather isn't over.

"We are very concerned about elephant seal pups over these next few storms," Sarah Codde, a Point Reyes National Seashore marine ecologist, told SFGATE. "I can say this year's mortality rate so far is more than what we normally see."

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Still, the situation could improve as pregnant seals will continue to arrive at the California rookery and give birth throughout the winter.

Point Reyes National Seashore spokesperson Christine Beekman told McClatchy News they are "cautiously optimistic" that the pup count will rise again.