Saturday, February 20, 2010

Over-Sized Elephant Seal Weaners

Despite quite a few pups starving to death ( see blog post 2-6-10 ), there also seems to be an inordinate amount of extra large weaners occupying a certain beach on the central coast of California.

The average weaned pup AKA weaner is between 4 and 5 feet long and weighs anywhere from 150lbs to just over 300lbs. ( Bear in mind that when one of these weaners was born a little over a month ago it was 3-4 feet long and weighed 60-80lbs.)

At this one beach, I have been astonished to observe that about 50% of the weaners are extremely huge. Their lengths are 5-6 feet, and they must weigh in at around 500+ lbs.

( Remember, a full-grown adult female is on average 8-9 feet long and weighs anywhere from 800lbs to 1,500lbs....and this is after several years. )

Why have so many weaners grown to this gargantuan size ?

Maybe this phenomenon came about because the moms and their pups became isolated up in the dunes and had plenty of undisturbed nursing time !? Due to the constant high waves and high tides during the merciless winter storms, sheer sand bluff walls were formed keeping the large male elephant seals at bay for several weeks down on the flats of the beach until they were able to wear down the sand walls and climb up into the lofty nursery.

Click here for more photos.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Mating Season Elephant Seal Style

As the females come into heat at the end of the nursing period for their pups, males of all ages come from far and wide to mate with as many females as they can.

Apart from their major problem of getting past the large and savvy alpha male, there's also the matter of the choosy females as some of them are not too keen on males that 'storm' the beach.

The huge size difference between the adult male and the adult female is known as sexual dimorphism, with the giant alpha males often growing to 3 times the size of the adult females.
( Wow...imagine being squashed by one of these titans ! )

Click here for more photos.

Click here for a video of a not too willing female.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Starving to Death

This birthing season has been extremely traumatic for the elephant seal pups and their moms as the unusually strong winter storms and extraordinarily high tides have been battering the beaches of the central coast of California almost non-stop since December, causing the size of the necessary dry beaches to shrink horrifically.

After becoming separated from their moms by the high tides time and again, many desperate elephant seal pups have taken to trying to find milk from other female elephant seals.

Unfortunately for them, the older elephant seal females tend to want to protect their single pup and chase off these motherless, starving pups by barking and/or nipping at them.

However, this year it's also been quite common to see younger females attempting to successfully nourish and care for multiple pups.

Despite this concerted community effort by so many young females, it has been and continues to be heart-breaking to observe countless immature pups starving to death after struggling for days to find enough fat-rich milk to keep them alive.

Click here to see more photos.