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.