The Hopkins State Marine Reserve in Pacific Grove is home to a vast array of wildlife.  Pacific harbor seals are some of the most commonly seen marine mammals in this area of the Monterey Peninsula coastline.  Between 250 and 500 harbor seals, both male and female, use the Hopkins State Marine Reserve beaches to haul out year-round, although numbers vary according to weather conditions and tidal cycles. Other types of marine mammals seen in the Hopkins State Marine Reserve include sea otters, sea lions and elephant seals. However, elephant seals are more commonly found north of Santa Cruz at Ano Nuevo and male sea lions usually haul out at the Monterey Coast Guard Pier.  Female sea lions remain at the Channel Islands, off the coast of Santa Barbara year-round to mate and birth pups.
Harbor seals are distinguished by their short flippers, lack of external ear flaps and their spotted coats, which range in color from white or light brown to dark gray.  Harbor seals molt their furry coats once every summer, a process that takes 1-2 months.  Harbor seals can live for 25-30 years, but average 12-15 for males, 15-20 for females. They grow to be 5-6 feet in length.  Males start breeding at 5 years and weigh up to 200 lbs.  Females breed at 3 to 4 years and weigh about 150 lbs.  Other than the weight difference, males and females look alike.  Natural predators of the Pacific harbor seal include orca (killer) whales and great white sharks.

Pacific Harbor Seals, Phoca vitulina
Harbor seals spend about half of their time in the water and half on land.  At night, they forage for fishes, cephalopods, and crustaceans in the waters of the Monterey Submarine Canyon.  Harbor seals can dive as deep as 1,500 feet and hold their breath for up to 35 minutes however, the average dive lasts 5 to 8 minutes and is only about 300 feet deep.  Harbor seals can sleep in the water by submerging their bodies and sticking their noses into the air--a resting position called "bottling."
Harbor seals in Monterey Bay mate in the water during the late spring and early summer.  Male seals must compete for females by putting on aquatic displays, making underwater vocalizations and sometimes fighting other males.  The precise mating system is unknown but thought to be polygamous.
In March and April, it is common to see female harbor seals on the protected beaches of the Hopkins State Marine Reserve giving birth. Female harbor seals birth one pup each year and nurse their pup for 4 to 6 weeks before they are weaned.  Pups weigh about 20 lbs and can swim at birth.  After a pup is born, the mother will leave the pup on the beach to forage for food in nearby waters.  Unfortunately, some beachgoers mistakenly believe that these pups have been abandoned and will approach, touch or even take pups away from the beach.  All types of human interaction with seals and pups is harmful and often results in the injury or death of the animal.  Seals are protected under The Marine Mammal Act of 1972 making it illegal and punishable by law to "take" marine mammals without a permit.   Even just harassing a marine mammal is considered a "take" under this law. See also MLO page on marine mammals.
If you see a seal or other marine mammal that looks wounded or stranded, call the Marine Mammal Center rescue hotline (open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week): (831) 633-6298 and take these steps:
What To Do For a Stranded Marine Mammal:

1. Don't touch!  Stay Away!
- Do not touch, pick up or feed the animal. Wild animals can bite and are easily stressed by humans.  Do NOT return the animal to the water.  Seals and sea lions often rest on land.  A beached whale, dolphin or porpoise should be reported immediately.
2. Observe
- Observe the animal from a distance of AT LEAST 50 feet.  Keep people and dogs away.
3. Describe
- Note the physical characteristics such as size, presence of external earflaps and fur color.  This helps rescuers to determine the species and what kinds of equipment and volunteers are needed.
4. Condition
- Note the animal's condition.  Is it weak and underweight?  Are there any open wounds?
5. Identification
- Does the animal have any obvious identification tags or markings?
6. Location
- Determine the exact location of the animal in order to provide accurate directions.  The animal can not be helped if rescuers are unable to find it!
7. CALL!
- Call the Marine Mammal Center.  For Monterey and Santa Cruz Counties call (831) 633-6298, elsewhere call (415) 289-7325 with as much information as you have.  The Marine Mammal Center rescue hotlines operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week.