Harbor & Elephant Seals
The San Francisco Bay Area is home to six pinniped species including harbor seals (Phoca vitulina richardii) and northern elephant seals (Mirounga angustirostris).
By the late 1800s, northern elephant seals had been nearly hunted to extinction. Since then they have been making a gradual comeback, including a breeding population that appeared at Point Reyes National Seashore in 1981. Today, a growing number of elephant seals breed at three sites at Point Reyes including Drake’s Beach, Point Reyes Headland, and South Beach. Since 1995 the park has monitored these animals each year during the breeding season to help understand population changes and management needs, and to develop research, interpretation and enforcement strategies. You can learn more about the Point Reyes elephant seals from the links on the upper right of this page.
Although elephant seals are only in the area for part of the year, harbor seals remain year-round and can provide valuable insights into the condition of marine and coastal ecosystems. Boasting an estimated 7,000 individuals, the harbor seal population in Point Reyes National Seashore is the largest concentration in the State of California. However, their abundance and distribution can be affected by disease, changes in food supply, disturbance to haul-out sites by commercial and recreational use, and environmental changes such as rising sea levels.
Harbor seals have been monitored at Point Reyes National Seashore and Golden Gate Recreation Area for 30 years, often with the help of dedicated volunteers. Currently, the Inventory & Monitoring Program conducts surveys once to twice per week throughout the breeding and molting seasons to gather data on numbers of adults and pups, dead pups, red-colored seals, and fresh shark-bitten seals, as well as sources of disturbance. This data has been summarized in the two-page resource briefs, multimedia, reports and other materials available through the menus on the top right of this page.