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.