Battle of the bulge: Breeding season starts soon for elephant seals at Año Nuevo

Pull up a chair and start placing your bets — it’s about to get ugly.

No, really, the elephant seals will be gathering soon at Año Nuevo State Park in California for their breeding season. (And have you seen one before?) All nose and gut, the males vie for alpha male status, bellowing their complaints and battling it out by throwing their chests against each other.

They make the Central California coast their home from December to March, and visitors can take a guided tour to see the breeding colony up close — from the first arrival of the males to the final departure of the pups.

Año Nuevo is the world’s largest mainland breeding colony of the northern elephant seal. But back in 1892, fewer than 100 elephant seals existed anywhere because of hunting. Now, thanks to legislation first implemented in Mexico and then the US, they are more protected. Their numbers have increased to about 150,000 — many of them come to Año Nuevo annually.

Advance reservations are recommended for the 2.5-hour walking tours, which run December 15-March 31. First, read the FAQs about the walks, then book your reservation either by phone (650-879-2033) or online. The admission price is $7.00 per person (free for children 3 and younger).

Año Nuevo is located along Highway 1, just 20 miles north of Santa Cruz. Another elephant seal spot is farther south on Highway 1 at Piedras Blancas (7 miles south of San Simeon), which is home to about 15,000 elephant seals. No admission fee or reservation is required there.