Elephant seals are leaving California beaches. Where are they heading?

Elephant seals are beginning their annual exodus from California beaches after bearing pups, National Park Service rangers reported.

Adult female elephant seals have started leaving Point Reyes National Seashore, with adult males soon to follow, rangers said in a Wednesday, Feb. 21, Facebook post.

The enormous marine mammals head north each year to feed at sea for four to seven months, with males and females heading to different destinations, rangers said.

“Males travel along the Pacific coast to the Aleutian Islands, Alaska, and feed on the calorically rich prey along the continental shelf seafloor,” the post said.

“Females, on the other hand, travel throughout the North Pacific in the deep open ocean, searching for patches of prey such as lanternfish,” rangers wrote.

Males, which are focused on becoming big and strong, feed along the coast, where there’s more food but also more predators, rangers said. Females feed in the open ocean, where there’s enough food to meet their needs with fewer predators.

Killer whales and sharks are the chief predators of elephant seals, California State Parks rangers said.

“The females eat nothing while they are giving birth, nursing, and mating, and the males go without food for up to three months at that time,” state officials said.

At sea, they can dive up to 2,000 feet below the surface for up to 20 minutes at a time in search of “rays, skates, rat fish, squid, and small sharks.”

Elephant seals can reach over 13 feet in length and can weigh 4,400 pounds, or 2.2 tons, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. They typically live about 19 years.

Point Reyes National Seashore is about 40 miles northwest of San Francisco. Large colonies of elephant seals are also typically found at Piedras Blancas near San Simeon, at Año Nuevo State Reserve and at the Channel Islands off Southern California.

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