Friday, January 29, 2010

Male Elephant Seals Getting Antsy

As the birthing season continues, and more and more suckling pups can be found on the diminished beaches despite the harsh winter storms and devastating high tides, the males are getting more and more eager to mate.

Apart from periodically viciously chasing unwanted male challengers off the portion of the beach they call theirs, the male elephant seals can usually be seen lying on the beaches preserving their strength in preparation for the task of mating with as many females as possible.

In the meantime, the young pups are suckling hard and often, growing fat in the process on their way to becoming weaned pups AKA weaners. ( So far, there are only a handful of weaned pups, born early on in the birthing season in December.)

To add to the mix, the females continue their bickering over space and pups and try to keep ardent males at bay till they come into heat starting a few days before the end of their nursing period of about 28 days.

Click here to see more photos.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Struggling to Survive

This was a long week of furious storms relentlessly pummeling the central California coast with heavy rain squalls, strong gusting winds, and huge waves.
This lengthy stretch of bad weather was really hard on all the elephant seals but the pups were the hardest hit as they were really put to the test to survive not only the elements but also the over-crowded diminishing beach space.

Confronted by the rushing waters from the drainage pipes and the high tides, the pups became confused and tended to panic as they got separated from their moms. It was heart-breaking watching them frantically trying to negotiate the swift-flowing foamy streams of run-off and sea water to get re-united with their frenzied moms. How many pups survived this stormy week is still unknown.

At least this weekend should be a little calmer at the elephant seal colony at Piedras Blancas as the storms have taken a couple of days off before their expected return on Monday.

Click here to see more photos.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Just How Do the Moms Protect Their Vulnerable Pups ?

Elephant seal moms are having a extraordinarily hard time this birthing season as the relentless high tides continue to pound the beaches of the central coast of California. ( An unconfirmed report said that as much as 50% of the earliest pups born this season were washed out to sea.)

When the waves come loudly roaring up onto what's left of the already overcrowded small pocket beaches on which some elephant moms have chosen to have their pups, the moms and pups sound the alarm by emitting frantic yelps and barks. With the incoming waves often wreaking chaos amongst the inhabitants of the elephant seal nurseries, frenzied elephant seal moms and pups try to stay together as tempers flare over vanishing safe space.

From what I've observed, the elephant seal moms protect their pups by using their bodies as a barrier by keeping themselves between the incoming water and their pups. They also constantly maneuver themselves and their pups to higher and safer ground, yapping at their pups to follow them. ( Maybe the pups are too heavy at 60-70+lbs to be picked up and moved by the scruff of their necks as a female dog or cat would do to their youngsters.)

The pups themselves also seem to have a natural survival instinct to search out higher ground, whether it be a mound of kelp, a rock, or just the higher beach by the bluff.

Then, there's the ever-protective BIG alpha male keeping a watchful eye on his brood not only trying to keep them safe from the elements but also keeping them unmolested from any hopeful male intruders.

For more photos, click here.

Friday, January 8, 2010

At the Bottom of the Heap

This young elephant seal pup has got herself in a precarious position...stuck underneath two bickering females ! ( She does end up wriggling herself safely free, though, while the females continue their difference of opinion.)

For the most part, the gigantic multi-ton male elephant seals are the ones to get blamed for the squishing of the pups on the crowded birthing beaches, but it certainly looks as though the moms can also be held responsible to some extent.

Now through February is the most exciting time as the beaches along the central coast of California will be filled with a cacophony of sounds from all the elephant seals, from the deep-throated roars of the males to the barking of the females to the shrill cries of the newborn pups. This amazingly diverse array of sounds rises to greet the many, often astonished yet excited, multi-national visitors, eager to catch a close-up glimpse of these fascinating mammals in action.

Click here for more photos.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Newborn Elephant Seal Pups and High Tides

The new decade of 2010 is causing major problems to the elephant seals on the central coast of California. The continuing high tides are taking away precious beach space and bringing imminent danger to the black, fuzzy new born pups as their moms struggle to keep them above the high tide mark. Unlike other types of seals, these adorable young newborn elephant seal pups don't have the strength to swim at birth.

To see more photos, click here.

To see video, click here.