Monday, December 24, 2012
The first birth of the season, caused much excitement as it took place a little earlier than usual this year, coming before the middle of December !
Once again, dragged out and bloody fights between big alpha males have been largely absent. The females, on the other hand, are continuing last year's extremely feisty behavior. Where all this leads to will indeed be interesting !
Every once in a while you get an eager-beaver adult male wanting to mate before the female's in heat. When this happens, it's usually with the younger females.
Click here for photos of the season.
Click here for video of the Ultimate 5,000lb Male Challenge. Wait till the end as I have to run away from the huge male who wants to challenge ME !
Saturday, December 8, 2012
All too soon, though, these younger males will be usurped by the giant adult males and the pregnant females longing to give birth.
Click here to see some of the antics of younger males captured for eternity.
With the weather acting oddly, it's going to be interesting to see if the elephant seal behavior is any different from last year when the females were extremely aggressive from the get-go. They were so aggressive that as far as I could tell, most males were unsuccessful in their mating attempts.
Click here to watch video of virile young males.
Friday, November 16, 2012
As the middle of November is now but a memory, so will soon this year's Fall Haul Out be as the shore time for these elephant seals draws to a close.
Despite the fact that the end of November is in sight, quite a few youngsters can still be seen lazing around some of the beaches as well as some young males and a few pregnant females.
Click here for photos of some of the remaining vacationers.
But, as the birthing/mating season approaches once again, the large adult males will start returning to lay claim to a piece of what each one hopes is an ideal spot on the beach for yet another season. Returning too, will the very pregnant females as they beach-hop from one beach to another trying to determine which beach will best meet their needs for birthing and nursing and the inevitable mating.
Click here for video of young males doing their thing.
Saturday, September 15, 2012
Click here to see more photos of our current visitors.
This fall, a good many of these elephant seals also seem to be unusually generous in 'decorating' our shallows and sandy beaches with their own brand of often brightly-colored fertilizer.
Why elephant seals choose to eat seaweed/kelp is not clear. Maybe they do so for the same reason dogs eat grass...to aid in digestion.
Click here to watch video of young males struggling to swallow some seaweed. ( Some of the video has been slowed down to better show the action. )
As we proceed further into the Fall Haul-Out, more and more elephant seals will come ashore to get some R&R before heading out once again to feed before the birthing/mating season that will start sometime in December.
Thursday, August 30, 2012
Click here for photos of some of these big males as they went about their daily business before leaving in search of food.
click here to see adult male elephant seals in their underwater environment.
So far only a few of the next group of 'vacationers' have ventured ashore. These first early-bird arrivals of the Fall Haul-Out are some of this year's weaners and youngsters, born 2-3 years ago.
Click here to see photos of these early arrivals.
Although some of these young elephants seals of both sexes are relaxing and sleeping, some of the more energetic puppy-like young males are already getting into dominance bouts of playful wrestling.
Click here for video of young males play-wrestling.
A few of the more adventuresome young males, on the other hand, like to test themselves by engaging slightly older male members of the group in challenges. Instead of being really aggressive, these older young males, however, tend to usually act amused and take it easy on these upstart youngsters.
Click here to see video of youngsters challenging slightly older elephant seals in a narrow inlet.
In the coming weeks, as the Fall Haul-Out gets into full swing, more and more youngsters will come ashore to relax and wrestle, and along with them, will also come some pregnant adult females and sub-adult males. ( The Fall Haul-Out usually lasts from September into November. )
Wednesday, August 15, 2012
Vibrissae, the plural form of vibrissa, comes from the Latin verb vibrare meaning to shake/vibrate.
Elephant seals have 3 sets of vibrissae/whiskers:
1. mystacial ( on each side of the nose )
2. rhinal ( on the upper bridge of the nose )
3. supraorbital ( above the eyes )
These bristly yet sensitive whiskers, which are very dark/black on pups and youngsters, are thicker and longer than the other hairs on the elephant seal's body. They also seem to be the longest on the youngsters between the ages of 2 and 4 years old. Instead of being smooth like the body hairs, they are beaded with wavy bumps of repeating sequences of crests and troughs along their lengths and are supplied with blood and nerves via the muscles attaching them to the elephant seal's head. It appears as though the elephant seals can manipulate each whisker individually or as a group.
When startled or protesting, all of the elephant seal's vibrissae fairly bristle, with all of them literally standing on end.
The vibrissae on the older elephant seals tend to be lighter in color and shorter as well as often displaying many colors.
When swimming along the surface, all 3 kinds of vibrissae are often extended, probably because the elephant seal is on high alert in preparation for whatever it might encounter.
Click here to see vibrissae being used in different situations...the last picture probably being the most amazing.
Saturday, July 28, 2012
For the most part, adult male elephant seals appear quite mellow, appearing to sleep away much of their shore-time. However, be assured that these giants are fully aware of what's going on in their vicinity and can react quite fast when needs be.
Male elephant seals have very definitive rules of engagement. They challenge vocally. They toss and twirl their heads and trunks for intimidation. They advance. They stare their opponent down. They lunge and strike. Most challenges, though, are short-lived and end when one backs away.
Click here for more land-based action photos.
If an elephant seal wants another one to move, he may 'tell' him to move, or lunge forward and butt him with his head or trunk. If neither of these attempts succeeds, he will resort to biting the other. If even this physical encouragement fails, a verbal and/or physical exchange will quickly erupt and continue until one of them concedes.
Click here for more water-based action photos.
Currently, as the end of July nears, groups of these large marine mammals, each of about 100 individuals, can be seen on a couple of the beaches at the Piedras Blancas colony on the central California coast. You can even see some of the more active individuals exchanging blows in the shallows or on land as dominance within the group is being determined, or a member from another group is being challenged.
Click here to see some exciting slo-mo video of dominance struggles in the shallows.
If you are lucky, you can even see some of these giants as they confront one another under water.
Click here to see more underwater action photos.
Friday, July 6, 2012
With just about all the females off hunting for food, older males are now venturing ashore on some of the beaches of the Piedras Blancas elephant seal colony.
Some of these large marine mammals are spending their days sleeping and resting while others are challenging rivals to dominance bouts both on land as well as in the shallows. Still others can be seen with their old brown fur beginning to peel off as it gets replaced by a spanking new gray one lying underneath the dried out brownish one.
Click here for photos of the current visitors.
The number of adult male elephant seals that are currently showing up on these beaches falls way short of the number of adult females that recently filled many of the beaches. In fact, there are only a few groups of adult males on only a few beaches.
Click here for video showing some group male action.
Oftentimes, hot air can be seen escaping the big mouths of the newly arrived males as they open wide to roar out a challenge to all and sundry.
Click here for some action video of roaring big males.
Monday, June 11, 2012
Even though June is underway, many of the continually bickering females are still present and are sticking firmly to our local beaches much like last year at this time.
Click here for female photos.
If you look carefully, you might notice that some of these females sport brightly colored red, yellow, or green tail-flipper tags from the Channel Islands further down the coast indicating that these specific females were tagged as weaners in that area. ( The white tags indicate they were tagged here at the Piedras Blancas colony. )
These pregnant adult females are apparently in no rush to leave for their next session of feeding. Instead, they're choosing to mingle and squabble within the shore-based feminine masses. Amongst these females, quite a few of them are displaying beginning signs of eye infections as well as other sores or infections.
Mouth Cyst on Female
Another interesting aside is that these females are occupying pocket beaches that in the birthing/mating season are traditionally taken over by the males.
Young Male Opponents
Click here to see young males in action on land and in the water.
The few younger males that have so far dared to venture to our shores at this time of year have basically two choices if they don't want to face these rather ferocious females. They can remain bottling off-shore or find small beaches that are unoccupied where they can go about their youthful male activities such as mock-fighting.
Click here to see video displaying fancy male moves along with a great variety of vocalizations.
Saturday, May 19, 2012
As May passes the mid-way mark, many of the adult females that have been quietly resting and bonding with other female beach-goers on their chosen female-only central California beaches have recently picked up the pace of their usual bickering and jostling.
Since resuming their argumentative tactics, I've been afforded numerous opportunities to capture many close-up photos immortalizing the amazing mouth and tongue actions of these feisty females.
Click here for these fascinating photos.
Now that most of the females have already shed their old and dried-out brown-colored fur, it seems as though the time is fast approaching for them to go fishing sporting their brand new sleek gray fur. Maybe their aggressive behavior signals that they're psyching themselves up in preparation for the tough hunting times in their immediate future.
Click here for photos of their current behavior.
If the scientists are correct, then all of these masses of adult females are pregnant once again, and the fetuses that they carry will now rapidly start to grow as the females get their fill of plenty of good seafood in their Pacific hunting grounds.
Even though scientists are of the belief that elephant seals don't eat when they come to the central coast of California, the strong fishy smell emanating from them is often very prevalent when they first come ashore. Judging by this fishy smell and my observations of the searching/hunting behavior elephant seals exhibit in the shallow coastal waters coupled with watching them snack on tide-pool inhabitants as well as seaweed strongly suggests to me that elephant seals do indeed eat, at least a little, while here.
Click here for video of female action.
As the females are readying themselves to 'push off', the sub-adult males are starting to show up but are remaining offshore well away from the nipping, feisty females. Instead of trying to share the beach with these aggressive females, they're choosing to stay a little ways out as they relax and keep track of who's approaching by doing their bottling maneuvers. ( Bottling is floating and keeping their noses pointing skyward. )
Tuesday, May 1, 2012
With most of this year's weaners having left in search of much yearned-for food, hundreds, maybe even thousands of brown-furred molting elephant seals of varying ages are swarming to their favorite beaches on the central coast of California. In fact, there seem to be many more elephant seals currently occupying these beaches than during the recently completed birthing/mating season.
Click here for photos of some of the current inhabitants.
The now relatively calm adult females, pregnant again, are trying to get some rest among the masses of brown bodies as they wait for the old fur to peel off and the new gray one to take its place as they undergo their catastrophic molt. The sexually immature females, on the other hand, can be seen hurriedly trying to stay out of the way of the young male elephant seals on the move.
Many of these young males from a couple of years old up to the youngest sub-adults, whose noses are starting to lengthen, are acting out their dominance fighting rituals both on land and in water.
Click here to see video of rock 'n' roll play-fighting.
Many of the 2- and 3-year-old youngsters are exhibiting what is known as scabby molt. This is not a true molt, but is believed to be a skin disease that afflicts some youngsters. On these elephant seals, it is not uncommon to see pink skin or even bleeding skin as the fur comes off.
Click here to watch video of graceful juveniles as they enjoy some carefree water time.
The only groups absent at this time are the older sub-adult males and the adult males. Some of the younger sub-adult males have started to come ashore, but the older ones will come in during May and June. Then in July and August, it’ll be turn for the adult males.
It is believed that each of the elephant seals coming here during this time will spend about one month ashore before heading back out to feed again.
Tuesday, March 20, 2012
The weaned pups, AKA weaners, are definitely in the majority on the local elephant seal beaches as March passes St. Patty's Day and the First Day of Spring.
Click here for more photos of weaners.
Even though you might see plenty of weaners sleeping away their hours preserving precious stores of mom's fatty milk, you will also see many of these eager and curious youthful elephant seals bouncing around the beaches interacting with one another and honing their water skills in tide pools, creeks and the shallows. They are very social and very alert as they explore everything around them, constantly verbally communicating and often staring curiously at passers-by, human or otherwise.
Click here to see video of weaner activity on land.
Click here to see weaner activity in the water.
Starting to join these social groups of weaners are the first of the tan-colored yearlings as well as two-and three-year-olds. Even quite a few of the brown-to-tan colored adult females have ventured ashore after having replenished the weight lost during birthing, nursing, and mating.
Click here to see photos of other elephant seal goings-on.
From late March through June, large groups of youngsters and adult females will be populating the beaches of Elephant Seal Land to get some R and R during their month long stay, with some of them looking rather ragged as they endure the molting process.
The molting that elephant seals experience on a yearly basis is known as a catastrophic molt because they completely shed their old fur once their new gray one becomes ready for use.
Tuesday, March 6, 2012
March is a time of change for the elephant seals as the crowded, noisy beaches of January and February have become almost empty of adults with only a few late-birthing moms, and a few tired, skinny but hopeful males, as well as some recuperating males still hanging around. The remaining brown-looking adult males are resting up and pooping as they prepare to leave to regain their lost weight, and maybe their lost pride as well. The remaining exhausted females are all too anxious to leave the attentions of these tired but unrelenting-in-their-sexual-efforts males and quickly regain their lost weight so they can start to nourish the new fetus in preparation for the next birthing season.
Click here for some of the last photos of adult males and females.
For the most part, however, most of these mainly skinny-looking males sporting still-healing battle wounds of scratches and tooth-marks are recuperating from this rather different birthing and mating season.
( The females seemed to be unusually bitchy, while the males seemed to be lacking in sufficient testosterone. Thus making successful mating rather a difficult proposition. )
Click here for photos of some the last matings of this season.
Towards the end of February, I was very fortunate to witness an amazing feat of strength and stamina on the part of one alpha male that went on a highly successful raid on a neighboring harem. Because of the length of the events, I split the video into two parts. Part 1 shows the lengthy fight where he temporarily banishes the reigning alpha male. Part 2 shows his triple mating !
Click here to see a shortened video of this lengthy 20/25-minute fight that took place towards the end of February. ( Very unusual at this time of the season )
Click here to see video of the triple mating.
As March moves along, it's the time for the weaners ( as the weaned pups are called ) to start fending for themselves.
The weaners are fun to watch as they try tasting varying objects on the beach, practice swimming in the creeks and/or tide pools, bicker amongst themselves, and spend plenty of time sleeping, preserving their mom-given fat-rich nourishing milk.
Click here for photos of young elephant seal weaners and almost weaners.
Saturday, February 11, 2012
Despite their fierce reputation, elephant seal males are, for the most part, quite peaceable except for when it comes to territorial rights and mating.
Click here for recent photos of the current residents at Elephant Seal Land.
Male elephant seal dominance fighting is part of their disposition, and, for the most part, these battles are fought without rancor.
Prior to this birthing/mating season, I've hardly ever seen a truly angry male elephant seal. This year, however, tolerance and patience seem to have been somewhat short on a few occasions.
Click here for video of a some crabby males
Also, since the mating season is in full swing, I thought it a good idea to try to describe with words, photos, and videos what actually leads up to a successful union.
Click here for photos of mating.
Alpha Male or Beachmaster is the term given to the dominant male that 'owns' a certain segment of the beach with all its resident females, pups and weaners. This time of year is an extremely busy one for these large males as they make valiant attempts to mate with ALL of the females of their so-called harem. In between convincing their females to mate, these huge males can be seen galloping madly across the beach staunchly defending 'theirs' from any and all would-be intruding lovers.
Below are some tongue-in-cheek tips that might be handed down from father to son throughout the realms of Elephant Seals.
Advice for a Would-Be Lover
1. Sneak ashore. Hide amongst the females and pups. Don’t draw attention to yourself.
2. You may have to go ashore behind the back of the alpha. Use waves, rocks and other seals as cover.
3. Try to find a quiet female. ( Almost impossible )
4. Quickly try to mount when opportunity arises….but keep and eye and ear open for an irate advancing alpha. Always be prepared to flee. Know where your quickest path back out to sea lies.
5. Wait for alpha to get tired from exertion, then make your move.
Advice for the Alpha Male
1. Keep other males away by patrolling waters and chasing amorous intruders off beach.
2. Allow some large males on peripheries to chase off other would-be lovers. ( Saves your time and energy. )
3. Choose a compliant female. Stay away from feisty females who bite and struggle fiercely to escape. Also watch out for females that gang up on you.
4. Don’t get interrupted by other advancing males.
5. Herd escaping females back to shore.
Click here for mating videos.
Tuesday, January 31, 2012
Despite the extraordinarily aggressive behavior of many of the moms this birthing season, most of the pups have flourished and many are now entering the stage of weanerdom. ( The pups are renamed weaners when the mom turns off the milk spigot after about 4 weeks of nursing and heads out to sea to feed and replenish her lost weight, leaving her offspring on shore to fend for itself. )
The biggest danger to the pups this birthing season has not been severe storms or amorous males looking to mate but the unusally pugnacious actions of many of the moms. These females have been quick to dash across several yards of beach to bite or even pick up and toss pups through the air with extreme regularity as can be evidenced by the large number of cuts and bite marks on nearly all the pups/weaners.
Maybe because the alpha males have successfully kept at bay what few love-struck males have tried to gallop across the beaches to mate with unwilling females, the nursing pups and their moms have largely remained uninterrupted over the bulk of the birthing season.
( It's not that the males intend harm to the pups, but their intrusions create unrest and force the moms and pups to keep moving around, cutting into nursing times and causing them to use up precious calories.)
Click here to see video of pups/weaners trying to wiggle their way out from under a huge bull.
In the photos, you can see how truly huge some of these weaners have become. Some of them have even almost attained the length of their moms in just a few short weeks of gorging themselves !
( Since so many of the weaners are big, round and comical this year, I feel tempted to nickname them butterballs.)
Click here for weaner and pup photos.
Nevertheless, in the last few days, more males have been starting to show up, and now the previously half-hearted mating attempts are getting more serious. At least these males are starting to achieve their goals with the now more complacent younger adult females before gettting run off the beaches by this year's more-than-usual protective alpha males or other large males intent on getting their share of the mating. ( Scientists claim that the females enter into estrus about 3 weeks after giving birth. )
Click here for photos of males in action.
Click here for video of various mating attempts.
Tuesday, January 17, 2012
With the birthing season in full swing, I thought I should cover some of the ways the elephant seals try to protect their pups when huge ocean swells combined with high tides temporarily take over the beaches.
Some females often place themselves between their pup/s and the sea. Some try to find a high spot like a good bed of kelp. Some try to move up creek beds or low-lying bluffs. Some just keep moving around.
If a pup does get taken out by a surge, however, the next wave will usually bring it right back in. When a pup gets swept out, its frantic mom will usually dash off into the surf in search of her offspring to guide it back to shore. Not only do the moms take action but even the males can oftentimes be seen getting into the act of helping out by guiding the pups back towards shore.
Click here to see video from a recent high surge event.
Since I've been researching the elephant seals, I often hear misleading statements about various aspects of their behavior. Because of these many misconceptions, I've decided to voice my thoughts on some of these based on my observations.
Below are some of the beliefs that I believe should be addressed.
Belief #1: Pups can't swim
False: Pups can swim...after all they are marine mammals born with the innate ability to swim. However, they don't have the necessary blubber to keep them warm. So if they get taken out in the tidal surges too often during their first couple of weeks of life, the very chilly waters of the Pacific Ocean along the central coast of California can cause them to suffer from hypothermia. This, of course, causes an inability to move resulting in their drowning.
Belief #2: Males kill pups
False: The males I've observed over the past several years tend to show a lot of tenderness towards the pups and try to avoid running over them when they're moving at full charge. ( The few times I've seen a pup getting run over by a massive bull, the youngster has bounced right back up protesting loudly ! )
Belief #3: Females are highly protective of their pups
True: Most females go to great lengths to protect their pups from any perceived threat, such as anything/anyone encroaching within a few feet of them. This aggressively protective behavior can include going after pups separated from their moms and the milk supply. Some females will even go so far as to bite and/or remove other pups from their vicinity by tossing them into the air. On the other hand, some females will take on pups that they didn't give birth to and nurse and protect them.
Belief #4: Males will mount anything
True: All males except the most senior ones always seem to be ready to mount any size, any age, any sex elephant seal at any given time. Not that they ever get anywhere in these desires...it just seems to be a part of their nature.
Belief #5: Adult Male Elephant Seals are always extremely aggressive
False: Adult males are generally not aggressive. For the most part, they tend to be rather mellow. There are times, though, when the mood strikes, that they will charge and attack other males after a series of ritualistic aggressive moves. Even on land, they can move extremely fast and cover several hundred yards at a good clip. Although hard blows can be exchanged and blood drawn by bites from their long canine teeth, truly serious injury or death are not par for the course.
Belief #6: They throw sand on themselves to stay cool
False: The reasons elephant seals throw sand on themselves is no doubt multifold. However, the belief that it helps them stay cool doesn't seem all that logical. ( If they're really hot, there's plenty of cool water in the Pacific. ) From my observations, one of the primary purposes of covering themselves partially with sand is a signal to others to leave them alone. ( They may even believe that the sand makes them invisible much as the ostrich seems to feel when it buries its head in the sand. ) Females also throw sand in the face of an amorous male as a deterrent to keep him and his unwanted advances at bay. Thirdly, females often bury the afterbirth by tossing sand on it to hide from the raucous ever-hungry gulls.
Returning to this birthing season's happenings...more adult males have come in. Yet, for the most part, they're still in a very mellow mood this time around with major bouts of fighting not taking place, and many females have still to give birth.
Click here to see recent photos.
Wednesday, January 4, 2012
Even though, many of the traditionally lively birthing beaches have not been richly populated as of yet as both the big adult males and females have been slow in returning to our shores, enough have showed up to contribute to this suddenly very busy early-birthing season. Last year at this time, males temded to be in the majority, but this year on some of the beaches, females and their newborn pups are just about the sole inhabitants.
Due to this sudden high concetration of pregnant females, I have been fortunate enough to witness two amazing births so far. The first one was a struggle taking about twenty minutes to complete, whereas the other that took place at sunset was extremely fast...probably less than five minutes. Watch as both pups come out tail flippers first. Then watch as the mom and her newborn pup bond by smell.
Click here to watch an exciting birthing video as a female elephant seal struggles to bring forth her pup.
Click here to watch a fascinatingly easy birth at sunset.