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.

1 comment:

  1. As you point out, the current activities at the rookery make this a good time of year to view the young elephant seals. Thanks for your detailed posts of these amazing mammals.