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.