Friday, December 30, 2011

2011-2012 Birthing Season Is Upon Us

So far, this season is proving to be quite different from those of recent years as the usual often-seen bloody testosterone-driven territorial fights during the month of December haven't materialized.

Click here to see a video of the only truly bloody fight I've witnessed so far.

Instead, those adult male elephant seals that did come ashore starting in the early part of December came mainly just to rest and then move somewhere else. In the later part of December, some challenges were issued, but very few rose up to test their prowess.

Click here to see a video of some of this year's adult male early beahvior.

In regards to the females, first there were none on the birthing beaches, then only a handful could be seen around the middle of the month. Now, as December draws to a close, not only have many very pregnant females shown up on the smaller birthing beaches, but quite a few are also quickly giving birth to their adorable black pups. However, the normally huge numbers of pregnant females are still conspicuously absent from the big birthing beaches where they've always tended to show up first.

Click here to see video of a gentle giant.

The pregnant females that have arrived have had their flippers specially full this month dealing with the many energetic amorous younger males who are looking to mate with anyone of any age they can coerce into it. Interestingly enough, though, the alpha male will, for the most part, let the females show their skill at getting rid of these ardent younger males. Some of these new mothers have proven to be unusually vicious in defending themselves and their pups from unwanted attention this month.

Click here to see video of females in ferocious defense.

Click here to see photos from the past couple of weeks.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Elephant Seal Land Mid-December

Feisty youngsters will nearly always stand up for their rights even if it means going up against the biggest of the big.

Even though the Fall Haul-Out should be over, there are still many very active and captivating youngsters remaining on varying beaches.

Click here for more photos of youngsters in action.

Even though we're half-way through December, not too many of the 'good olde BIG BOYS' have shown up to claim California winter territory yet. Also, what's even more surprising is the lack of females. In fact, I've only observed a good amount of the fair sex on one beach....a beach that's not usually a birthing beach !

Click here for photos of some of the BIG BOYS.

Click here for video of the only 'Beach Chase' I've seen so far this season.

The younger adult males are busy participating in their preliminary bouts, most of which are lacking in tenacity at this point.

Click here for video of some of the yonger adult males in action.

Maybe the changes in coming ashore can be attributed to good fishing times, that we've been having a lot of off-shore winds and currents, or, just maybe, the elephant seals want to keep everyone in suspense ! Who knows ?

Click here for other photos from the past couple of weeks.

NEWS FLASH....the first pup of this birthing season was born a couple of days ago...probably Thursday, December 15th on one of the pocket beaches. A beach that so far only has 3-5 pregnant females on it. Maybe because this young mother is basically surrounded by males of all ages instead of being in a group of females, she is acting extremely anxious and is aggressively keeping all other elephant seals well away from her newborn baby girl. ( I have been alerted to the fact that a few other pups have been recently born on a couple of the larger beaches. )

Click here for photos of the newborn girl.

Click here for video action of pup and mom.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Astronomical Tides Causing Problems

Abnormally high and low tides have created quite a problem for the elephant seals on some of the central coast beaches.

Click here for more photos of the latest characters.

Thanks to huge mounds of kelp raising the height of some small beaches though, small havens have been formed where youngsters and pregnant females can get some rest ahead of the fast approaching birthing and mating seasons. Not finding room on what precious beach land that is available during the high tides, many of the rather feisty younger adult males have often been forced to stay off-shore and conduct their preliminary dominance fights in the water rather than on land. And many have proved themselves very adept at dealing aquatic punishing blows without the support of solid land beneath them. ( Interestingly enough, it seems that when the sea is in turmoil the elephant seals tend to be more aggressive. )

Click here for video of action-packed sub-adult male elephant seals.

A few larger adult males have already made it to shore, but apart from one bloody adult male, most of them seem content to sleep in preparation for the upcoming territorial fights.

Click here for video of pregnant females doing their thing.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Sub-Adult Males Are Dominating the Beaches and Shallows

Alongside the tan-colored bodies of mainly younger elephant seals that have been adorning some of the beaches of the Piedras Blancas elephant seal colony on the central coast of California for the past couple of months, more and more sub-adult males can be seen as well as heard.

Many of the sub-adult males are showing up in a feisty mood and have been putting on spectacular minor pugilistic shows both on land and in the shallows of the bays.

( Equality in size doesn't seem to be important as you can often observe much younger elephant seals challenging more mature ones. )

From the day they're born, most male elephant seals seem to spend much of their waking hours trying to dominate others, both male and female.

( It would be interesting to know how far back their memories stretch as sometimes they sniff each other upon meeting and don't engage in any sort of superiority fight at all. Whereas, at other times, they either sniff one another and immediately start to fight, or don't sniff at all but start fighting with little or no warning. )

A few of these newcomers, on the other hand, appear to be enjoying themselves peacefully floating around, eyes closed, under the surface in the unusually clear bay water. Then, there are still others that appear to be searching around for something, maybe something edible, in the nooks and crannies of the rocks in the shallow coastal water.

Click here for video of sub-adult males enjoying life in Californnia.

No matter the time of year, each elephant seal season always has something truly fantastic to present to the human onlookers.

Click here for photos.

Click here for video of sub-adult males in dominance mode.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Heading into the Last Month of the Fall Haul-Out

In the last few days, along with the very poignant smell of sardines and/or other bait fish a large quantity of tan-colored young elephant seals have suddenly showed up and are adorning the sandy beaches of the Piedras Blancas colony. As these chubby, well-fed newcomers start their R and R, sleep seems to currently be at the top of the list of their priorities.

In the meantime, there are many days where action amongst the occupants of the pocket beaches has been fast and furious.

Click here to see more photos of action shots.

Sprinkled amongst these youngsters, a few pregnant females can be spotted trying to relax, as the roars of engangement from a few early sub-adult males can be heard resounding across the coastal waters.

Click here to see young male elephant seals inside the waves or just at the surface.

As we head into November, the last month of the Fall Haul-Out, more and more sub-adult males will be showing up supposedly to rest but more likely to engage in rollicking dominance encounters.

Click here to see close-ups of young males in feisty enounters.

Click here to see video of not often seen male elephant seal behavior.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

High Tides with Big Wave Action

Recent extremely high fall tides along with huge swells have created much wave action agitating this year's younger elephant seal participants of the Fall Haul-Out on the smaller pocket beaches on the central coast of California.

Click here to see elephant seals in sudsy white sea-foam.

High surf has caused the deafening waves to come crashing ashore temporarily occupying the small pocket beaches where some of the elephant seals have been trying to get some R&R. With their much-prized sleep interrupted, the boisterous younger male elephant seals have been forced back into the unforgiving chilly rough waters of the Pacific.

Click here to see photos of elephant seals in the rough waves.

As a result, much of the inevitable sparring and other communication amongst the younger male elephant seals has been taking place in these choppy waters as the elephant seals ride the rollicking waves.

Current occupiers of the beaches along the central coast of California include young males from this year's weaners up to young sub-adults as well as females of assorted ages, with even some pregnant slightly older ones trying to rest up prior to the upcoming birthing season.

Click here to see video of these elephant seals in the waves.

To see even more action photos, click here.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Continuing Fall Haul-Out

As the Fall Haul-Out continues, seaweed seems to be a huge favorite amongst the seafaring youngsters. Time and again, one can see young elephant seals twirling, shaking, and swallowing colorful pieces of different kinds of seaweed. To what end, you might ask ? Maybe the energetic youngsters are consuming their nutritional veggies ?

Energetic young males on high alert in the shallow bay waters, often keep pace with people walking along the bluffs....probably trying to determine if these people are a threat/challenge to them. Once they decide that these curious land-mammals are not intent on engaging them, the youngsters return to their own boisterous activities.

A few more mature young females can now also be spotted catching some R&R amongst the pale tan-colored younger elephant seals on the beaches.

Soon the eager-to-engage-in-dominance-fights older young males will also be showing up for their turn at the Fall Haul-Out at Elephant Seal Land on the central coast of California.

Click here for more photos.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Versatile Fore-Flipper Action

When I first started reseaching the central coast elephant seals, I was told that they hardly use their fore-flippers at all. However, having observed, photographed and videotaped them for a few years, I find I have to disagree.

These human-like 'hands' are constantly in use both on shore and in the water. Some of their land uses include, the obvious scratching of various parts of their body...batting away an unwanted intruder....using the long nails as a sharp retaliatory weapon...clasping an antagonistic eseal in a hugging motion....helping haul the ungainly-on-land body across rocks and sand.

Then there's the water. Recently, I have been fortunate enough to witness and videotape how they use their fore-flippers in a rather human-like way as they bottle and twirl around in the coastal bays.

Bottling is where they seem to be floating vertically in the water but are actually arching their upper torso upright and backwards. They hold this position by moving their fore-flippers in a circular motion much as synchronized swimmers would do with their arms and hands to stay upright.

What is the purpose of bottling ? This arching of the upper torso in the water, which seems to only be carried out by male elephant seals, obviously helps them quickly discern who's approaching both above them on the beaches and the bluffs as well as in the water. Bottling seems to be the action of choice when the males of all ages first come to the coastal waters. After that it seems to be more of a sporadic event. Apart from finding out who their immediate compadres and competition are, maybe they're also preparing and strengthening their fore-flippers for the switchover to land movement. After all, for the huge adult males, hauling a couple of tons of blubber across land at the high speed of 10+ m.p.h. is no mean feat !

Watch this video as they use their fore-flippers in an almost human or dophin-like way in their aquatic maneuvers.

Click here for photos showing fore-flipper versatility.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Elephant Seal Seasons at Piedras Blancas, CA

To find out when which elephant seals are at the Piedras Blancas colony on the central coast of California, you should take a look at my newly released ebook at The straight-forward descriptions provide ample information, and the accompanying high quality color photos of these fascinating marine mammals complete the picture.

Click here for direct link.

You can also watch this promo video on my YouTube Channel, Elephant Seal Action Videos. Click here to find out more about this book.

Keep an eye out for hardcopies that will soon be available on

Hope you find this informative.

Friday, September 9, 2011

The Start of the Fall Haul-Out

As almost all the big adult male elephant seals have left to fortify their strength and body weight in preparation for the up-coming December territorial fights, the beaches along the central coast of California are currently occupied by only a few dozen mainly tan-furred youngsters doing their thing.

As September heads towards October in this Fall Haul-Out season, however, more and more elephant seals in the younger age brackets will be looking to enjoy spending some quality shore-time on these usually noisy and busy beaches.

Adding to the mix of weaners and yearlings as we go through October, energy-filled ‘teenage’ males will be charging ashore delighting onlookers with their rock-’n’-roll style fights. In addition, alongside these combative youngsters, a few pregnant young females will also be trying to get some shore-rest on the ‘quiet side of town’ away from the boisterous young males.

Click here see video of a young elephant seal wrestling seaweed.

Click here to see more photos.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

...And the Males Are Still Here

We're half-way through August, and there are still quite a number of large adult males hanging around the beaches at Elephant Seal Land. Though not as feisty as a few weeks ago, you can still see sporadic short encounters, but it looks as though they're mainly resting up before taking off on yet another foraging trip.

Click here to see some action close-ups.

Into the mix of the remaining giants, a handful of small weaners can already be seen resting or mildly sparring like young puppies.

Click here to see a cute video of a couple of weaners playing like puppies.
( The remarkable thing is that one's a female and the other's a male. Usually you only see young male weaners interacting in this way.)

Click here to see more photos.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Dominance Fighting Is In

When the large male elephant seals started coming ashore in July, many were looking rather on the skinny side. Amazingly, and I say amazingly because scientists believe that elephant seals do NOT eat while they're visiting the beaches on the central coast of California, these giant marine mammals have made quite a noticeable weight gain ! They're now looking like you would expect them to, full of blubber and acting quite feisty once again.

With resting no longer being the most important activity some of the days, these heavy- weights are spending quite a bit of shore-time fighting whoever will accept the proffered challenges.

Throughout their lives, male elephant seals spend a good portion of their non-foraging time in determining who is stronger and more dominant by engaging in skirmishes with plenty of other elephant seals both in the shallows and on the beach.

Despite the obvious signs of mounting testosterone which is giving rise to quite a few fiercely combative skirmishes, many fights at this time of year are still quite lacksadaisical. Presently, the more serious fights are taking place in the shallows, while the disagreements on land usually arise when a male wants to change his position or location.

Click here to see current photos from Elephant Seal Land.

Some males do their best to avoid fighting altogether unless really pushed to the limit while others are constantly on the lookout for a good bruisin'. When observing these fights, it looks as though some males almost appear to be laughing as they face their opponents while others stare fiercely aggressively as they go on the attack. Still others look as though they're tolerating the inevitable. Interestingly enough, you can even witness occasional actual flashes of anger both in the behavior and in the eyes of some of these huge marine mammals as they go about deciding dominance.

The adult male elephant seals, however, usually only draw significant blood in the territorial fights that take place in December of each year. Fierce as those fights often are though, they do not fight to the death. Instead they either end with one of the combatants voluntarily backing away or being chased away by the victor.

Elephant seals have established their rituals for fighting which they follow pretty much every time there's a challenge. Click here to learn about the different steps.

Click here to see photos of male elephant seal aggression.

Click here to watch video of large male elephant seals battling in the shallows.

Click here to watch video of large males doing battle on the beach.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Molting and Sparring Adult Male Elephant Seals

The hugely popular giant seafaring mammals, the adult male elephant seals, are once again coming to the local beaches on the central coast of California. Reaching 15 or so feet in length and weighing in the neighborhood of 3+ tons, they are convening here mainly to rest and molt, with the inevitable bouts of dominance sparring interrupting their noisy snores and snorts.

Click here to see video of these molting giants.

However, these giants of the sea do not seem as well-fed this year as the recently departed adult females. For many, their skin seems too big and wrinkled instead of being plumped out by several inches of insulating blubber. Since many appear to be on the skinnier side, they'll have to broaden their foraging hunt after completing their molting in order to be at full strength and weight for the intense fights for the rights to a piece of beach territory in December.

In contrast, some of the well-fed younger adult males can be seen eagerly sparring on land or in the water amongst these currently rather lethargic heavy-weight leviathans.

Here and there, an early-arrived yearling can already be spotted snoozing on the sandy beaches.

Click here to see plenty of photos of large males doing what they do best.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Now for the Bigger Males

With the pregnant adult females apparently loathe to depart on their BIG summer foraging trip, many of the sub-adult male elephant seals have been reluctant to come ashore and get picked upon by these queens of the marine mammals. Instead, they have mainly chosen to stay just off-shore bottling and lazily swimming around in the shallow bays. The few males that did venture ashore tried to hide quietly amongst the restlessly quarreling moms without getting booted off again. ( Adult female elephant seals are infamous for picking on each other and keeping unwanted suitors/intruders from getting too chummy.)

Click here for photos of females.

However, as June draws to close for this year, and with these ruling females gone, the favoritized beaches are beginning to fill up with bigger males.

Click here for photos of sub-adult males and juveniles.

As we move through the summer months of July and August, we should see quite a few of the large male elephant seals taking up month-long residencies on the beaches of the central coast of California so they can go through their catastrophic molt and get some shore rest.

Click here to see video of adolescent males ganging up on an intruding male.

Currently, dominancy fighting is not at a premium as the newly arrived males are getting some R&R after their first long feeding trip of the year. But, as they recoup, no doubt their usual squabbling and hierarchal clashes will commence once again.

Click here for photos of bigger males.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Mostly Adult Females

Almost all of the favored elephant seal beaches are so packed with the big adult female elephant seals that it's hard to spot any sand. Most of these pregnant female seals have finished molting for this season but are still resting up on the beaches before heading back out to sea to feed.

There are still a few juveniles also hanging around, but all this year's weaners have finally left on their first BIG foraging voyage.

The next group to come in mass to molt will be the sub-adult males. With so many adult females still enjoying our coast, beach space will be at a premium as the guys start to come ashore in larger numbers. In fact, one can already see and hear a few of these young males both in the water and on land.

Click here for more photos. ( Because we've had so many unusually calm days, many of the photos show the elephant seals doing their thing under water for a change. )

Click here for video of females relaxing in the tidal surges.

Click here for video of young male having a relaxing time in a bay.

Click here to see video of young males trying to make decisions.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Molting Time for Females and Juveniles

The first group of elephant seals to return to the beaches on the central coast of California to start their molt are the adult females. Pregnant once more, and having regained their lost weight during the recent birthing/mating season, they have once again taken over their favorite beaches in order to rest and shed their old fur, which has become tan-colored over time. Some of these adult females are really huge...close to 10 feet in length and looking rotundly healthy after only having been absent for a month. It's hard to believe that they left about a month ago looking thin and worn out.

The catastrophic molt, as it's called, takes close to one month to complete. During this time the 'old' fur and attached skin comes off in large pieces so that the new sleek gray fur can be exposed and readied for 'duty'. During this changeover, the elephant seals seem more sensitive to heat than otherwise and can be seen lying either at the water's edge or swimming in the cool Pacific waters if the mercury starts to rise.

At this time, since there are no large males around, the adult females are the dominant ones on the beaches. Amongst these constantly bickering females, one can also see molting juveniles of both sexes and quite a few newly-arrived weaners that are beach-hopping their way to the hunting grounds.

One- and two-year-old elephant seals sometimes suffer from scabby molt, believed to be a skin disease rather than a true molt. ( Click here to read more. )

As April proceeds, sub-adult males will start to come ashore to start the molting period.

Click here for current photos.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Weaners Galore

Since the threat of a far-reaching tsunami caused by the devastating 9.0 earthquake in Japan has finally dissipated, one would think that the elephant seals camped out on the shores of the central coast would continue their regular business.

Most of the current elephant seal population is composed of this year's pups, who recently matured into weaners. The majority of these have gathered together in oversized weaner pods on just a couple of the local beaches in the Piedras Blancas area instead of being dottted along the coast as in previous years.

An observer might be amazed as the members of the weaner pod at the north end of the Piedras Blancas viewing center seem to be unusually active, feisty and agitated - biting and snapping at anything and everything that's in their vicinity rather than mainly sleeping away their days, conserving energy. Extreme backbends also seem to be the order of the day as many of these maybe not-so-small twirling dervishes are making the most of a pool formed through a combination of high tides and water deposited from a large agricultural drainage pipe.

Click here to see video of weaners in pool.

Another interesting point is the amount of large adult male elephant seals that are still present. One could say that they're there to protect the weaners. But are they ? Scientists believe that the adult males are only interested in mature females. However, my observations of the adult males would seem to point to their protective nature not only towards females but also towards the pups and/or the weaners.

So far, only a handful of the females have returned to the beaches to rest and start their catastrophic molt. Additionally, on some of the small pocket beaches, a few well-fed young males have already hauled out to begin their molting period.

Click here to see more photos.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Pups Becoming Weaners

All but the last few exhausted mommy elephant seals have left to replenish their rapid weight loss which took place during their month-long shore sojurn. Giving birth and suckling their pups without possibility of leaving land for about 28 days to get some sustenance caused them to lose about 1/3 of the body weight they had when they first came ashore this winter.

The pups, most of whom are more than chubby this year, have been renamed weaners, weaned from suckling, and their only adult protection now is from some of the remaining large males.

Many of these weaners hang out in varying-sized groups known as weaner-pods. Whether they do so for safety in numbers, for comfort from physical closeness to others, for warmth, for the social aspect or what, the scientists are not sure. One thing is sure, though, their interactions with one another are often hilarious to watch.

Over the next month or so, the black/brown pup fur will be exchanged for the eye-catching silver gray fur that's specific for the weaners during their first year. Like all sea-going creatures, their new backside fur is darker than their belly fur, making them less visible to their predators in the ocean.

During their first month as weaners, they will start exploring the shallow tide-pools and/or creeks honing their vital foraging, swimming and diving skills. In so doing, they often get caught up in the ocean currents and land up, intentionally or otherwise, at a different beach, which I call this beach-hopping.

My next posting will deal with the adventures of maturing weaner.

Click here for more photos.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Mating Season

Even though there are still quite a few young pups sticking close to their protective moms, more and more females are coming into heat as their pups pass the three-week-old mark.

Many of these females are still displaying feisty behavior struggling to free themselves from ardent males by twisting and turning and even placing some good nips on the male's sensitive trunks or ripping at the cornified chest shields. ( The females seem to rule the roost ! )

Click here to see video of mating.

As this year's suckling phase nears its end, thinner than usual females seem impatient to quickly leave their fast maturing pups and head back out to sea to find some much needed nourishment to replenish their weight loss.

However, the male elephant seals, and there are an unsual amount of them this year, are insisting on trying to mate with as many of these obviously exhausted females before the 'gals' leave on their much-needed rejuvenation trip.

( Maybe because the weather has been unusally sunny and warm and the traditional foggy mornings and evenings absent, many of the elephant seals seem more drained than in other years.)

The BIG alpha males, the ones that won the hotly-contested territorial fights, are still jealously guarding their harems of females that are still ashore. Many of these large beachmaster males have intensified their determined dashing up and down the beaches over the past couple of weeks, as more and more uninvited amorous suitors keep trying to sneak ashore after playing the patient alligator in the shallow coastal water. Interestingly, the smarter alphas on the smaller beaches, can be seen exchanging the exhausting land patrol for the much easier and more efficient swim patrol in the shallow waters when the tidal water is high enough. Rocks that protrude above the surface of the shallow water are used to hide behind both by the protector and the intruders.

An amorous intruder might try to sneak quietly undetected by the alpha male up to a group of females, making himself as flat and unobstrusive as possible. To no avail. The females will soon make loud deep barking sounds to alert their protector, the big alpha male. This heavy-weight of all heavy-weights will then come rushing over to convince the uninvited suitor to remove himself. Sometimes, the suitor dashes off to another beach via the sea, or he'll just move off a little ways and wait for the opportunity to try again.

Some would-be suitors are not so subtle and attempt to physically challenge the resident head-honchos. This challenge usually ends very quickly with the wishful mater-to-be being chased off the beach with little or no physical contact.

Click here to see more photos.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Elephant Seal Mom

As soon as the pup is born, bonding takes place between mom and pup by each smelling the other, and in so doing, imprinting each other’s scent, the only sure way to ID one another in the melee of the elephant seal colony. ( The rather helpless newborn is completely dependent on its mom for survival.)

The immediate main mission of the mom for the following 28 days is to PROTECT her pup at all costs. To this end, she likes to keep a clear space around her and her not-too-swiftly moving pup to help in the defense against aggressive seals of either sex. ( To the eager onlooker, it appears as though the moms are continually bitching and then quickly turning to reassure themselves that their pup is OK.)

Click here to see video of bickering females.

If a prospective male suitor comes over to mate with an unready and unwilling mom, she tries to lure this ardent guy away from the vicinity of her pup by wiggling her tail-end and acting as though she wants to mate. Once lured over to her, the would-be-mate finds his advances are not welcome as the come-hither wiggling stops, sand is flung in his face, and he will probably also get some sharp nips from the protective mom before she hurries back to her pup.

Another problem the mom has to guard against is her dependent pup being run over by large males charging frantically across the beach trying to escape being attacked by other large males.

Click here to see video of male charging across crowded beach.

The icy tidal Pacific Ocean water is yet another danger to the newborn as too much cold water will chill the pup to the bone and can even lead to death.

Intruders on the birthing beach that the moms try to keep at bay, include raucous and bold gulls as well as the occasional coyote looking for a quick meal of tasty pup.

The other important side to being an elephant seal mom is to get the pup to suckle. If the hungry pup has problem locating the milk supply on the huge body of the female, the mom will use a fore-flipper to keep the pup from heading up towards her head instead of going down towards her tail end where her teats are.

Sound-wise moms and pups communicate almost constantly, but if a mom wants the pup to be quiet, she will even cover the pup’s head with her mouth.

The female emits distinctly different sounds for different situations. For example: the deep bark is a warning sound whereas a series of high-pitched almost staccato sounds indicate anxiety.

Click here to listen to an anxious female.

Click here to listen to female's warning bark.

For more photos, click here.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Pups...Pups...and More Pups

Since the birthing season is now in full swing, I'm dedicating this posting to the littlest of the elephant seals...the newborn pups.

Once the mom starts her birth contractions, the birth is usually only a few short minutes away, with the pup entering this world either head first or tail-flipper first. As the gulls swoop in to get a good meal by eating up the afterbirth, and thereby keeping the beach clean, mom and her newborn pup bond by getting familiar with each other's scent. ( This is very important, especially on crowded beaches, as moms and pups often get separated in the turmoil of elephant seals constantly moving around for one reason or another. )

The first two weeks are immensely important for the survival of the newborn pups. They have two immediate life-surviving tasks to accomplish. They have to find the location of their food supply, and they have to stay warm. During their first couple of weeks, the 3-4 foot newborn fuzzy black pups are ill-equipped to stay warm in the chilly ocean waters of the Pacific. This means, that until they've built up enough blubber from mom's fat-rich milk, they can actually die from hypothermia if they get caught up in the coastal tide-waters too often. ( Maybe their heat-absorbing black fur helps keep their skinny little bodies warm until the blubber layer is built up. )

Click here to watch the awesome experience of this pup being born.

Click here to see a video of a pup shivering.

Both moms and their newborns are extremely vociferous, and the central California beaches are filled with a cacophony of their sounds throughout the birthing season.

Similar to when a human baby cries, one can only try to hazard a guess as to what is behind the loud high-pitched cries the elephant seal pups send out across the sandy, kelp-fly-filled air-waves. Mostly, they're hungry...and cry out for mom to roll over and give them some great-tasting high-fat milk. But they also cry out because they're cold from the chilly ocean tides, separated from mom, being nipped at by another elephant seal, sounding the alarm at an unknown presence, chasing off intruding gulls...or...any number of other reasons one can think up.

The pups get to enjoy the easy food supply for about 28 days. Then the milk is abruptly turned off, and they left to fend for themselves and are renamed weaners.

Scientists believe that the ratio of male to female pups born is 50-50.
So how can you tell the difference ? Well, apart from asking the pup to roll over, one can take an educated guess by looking at the shape of the head and the fore-flippers. The male's head tends to be rounder, the fore-flippers bigger, and they'll stare you down.

The birthing season, followed by the mating season is probably the busiest elephant seal time on our beaches.

Click here for more photos.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Aggressive and Domineering Alpha Males in Action

Although off to a sleepy start earlier this season, the large adult males are now competing with the sub-adult males as to who can be more aggressive as the birthing season is getting into full swing.

Usually the large males wait for the females to enter into heat before attempting to mate. ( Three weeks after the pup is born, females are in heat for about a week. ) This year, however, it seems to be more about dominance, as males of all ages are attempting to take possession of any female or youngster on shore or in the shallows. This act of aggression/dominance is also happening to females who have just given birth.

Even though more females have come ashore, their numbers seem currently to be less than in years prior, whereas the males appear to be more than plentiful.

So far, the pups look robust and healthy, and their moms are doing a great job of fiercely protecting them from other elephant seals as well as the cold waters of the Pacific.

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