Location: San Simeon , CA
Notable Features: Piedras Blancas Lighthouse, Elephant Seal Rookery
Overview: Piedras Blancas, Spanish for white stones, is located in the north-western part of San Luis Obipso County in San Simeon. The area is named for a distinctive, white knuckle-shaped rock just off the coast of the lighthouse. Construction on the lighthouse began in the spring of 1874 and was first light in the winter of 1875 to alert ships of the hazardous rocks in the area. When it was first built, the lighthouse stood one hundred feet tall and was fitted with a First Order Fresnel Lens. Later, a Fog Signal and sound were added in 1905 and 1906, respectively.
In late 1948, an earthquake struck near the lighthouse and the top stories of the station were deemed structurally unsound. The top three levels were removed in 1949, bringing the lighthouse down to its current height of around seventy feet. The lighthouse was automated in 1975 and is still in operation to this day. The original Fresnel lens is on display next to the Veteran's Memorial Building in Cambria, where it is on loan from the Coast Guard to the Cambria's Lion Club. There is currently restoration work being done to the Lighthouse area, including a replica water tower that was constructed in 2013.
Although the offshore rocks are hazardous to ships, they also serve as a home for many marine animals. California sea lions, gray whales, humpback whales and bottlenose dolphins have all been sighted from the shore. Several species can be seen on shore as well as in the air, including the Peregrine Falcon and Brown Pelican. Thanks to restoration work on the land, several native plant species have returned as well which beautifully cover the area with color.
Perhaps the most notable animal able to be viewed in the area is the iconic Elephant seal. These seals have a rookery a few miles away from the lighthouse, and have made a remarkable comeback in the last 30 years. The seals were hunted in the 1800's for their blubber relentlessly; they were thought to be extinct, until a colony was found in Baja California. In 1990, biologists saw about a dozen Elephant seal pups for the first time off the Piedras Blancas shore. This number rose to about 1,000 in 1996, and current population estimates are at about 23,000 in the area. The species is known to return to specific areas such as the Piedras Blancas where breeding areas have been established.
Biological research has been done in the area since 1977. This research originally focused on the Sea otter, but now in addition to sea otters an annual count is done on gray whales and there is ongoing research in tidepool studies, upper atmospheric wind monitoring studies, and seismic studies.
The area offers scenic hiking, diverse ecoregions and beautiful wildlife.
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