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.