Saturday, October 5, 2013

Midst of Fall Haul-Out

With Fall Haul-Out about half-way over, the favored elephant seal beaches along the central coast of California are quite busy with a elephant seals of all ages from this year's pups through a few lingering large males.

The young males like to spend much of their time jousting both on land and in the water. One might even call this past-time frolicking, but this sparring is preparing the youngsters for their roles in the male hierarchy, prevalent amongst these pinnipeds. While many of the males seem to love eating seaweed at this juncture of the year, the young females tend to stay onshore and out of the way of the sparring males.

Click here to watch a cute video of young males enjoying their Fall Haul-Out time.

At this time of year, each visiting elephant seal spends about one month or so enjoying our beaches and our coastal shallows before heading back out to hunt once again.

All too soon though, more and more pregnant females will return as will the sub-adult males and adult males as the new birthing season approaches in December.

Click here to see pics of the current visitors.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Adult Males Enjoying August Beach Time

As August heads towards September, many adult male elephant seals can still be seen on some of their favorite beaches along the central California coast.

Click here to see photos of some of the current adult male visitors.

The male elephant seal often gets a bad rap as being extremely mean and vicious. As far as I have observed though, the males are usually very sweet towards the pups and take great care around them. When it comes to the weaners, the older males don't hesitate to put them in their place, but without any rancor. When it comes to the adult females, the older males obviously do want to mate with them when they're in heat, but they still allow the female to make the final call. When it comes to sub-adult males and other adult males, however, confrontation often takes place. This doesn't necessarily result in a physical fight. They might posture, 'talk', or make threatening moves without actually coming into physical contact. Mostly, one male will back away and peace is restored once again.

In December, when territorial fights tend to take place, serious fights can turn into bloody confrontations....but never deadly ones. For the most part, the fights are short in duration....10 minutes or less...although, in rare instances, there are a few territorial bouts that last upwards of 30 minutes or more. ( Sub-adult males will sometimes also try their luck during this time period...but, the well-established adult males are NOT about to yield their hard-won turf rights to those they consider subordinates. )

Then in January and in the first part of February, male fights sometimes occur over females, when both adult males and sub-adults try to mate with some of the many females. Interestingly enough, once in a while, the alpha male AKA beach-master will allow others to mate with 'his' females. July and August, while most of the older males are trying to rest up, many of the sub-adults can often be seen challenging one another in the shallows and on land.

Click here to see video of some of the males enjoying their downtime.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Male Elephant Seal Time Once Again

Elephant seals are known for their amazing ability to sleep at any time. Of course, sleeping marine mammals isn't what people are particularly keen to see. But when the BIG male elephant seals occupy beaches in central California at this time of year, they're mainly there for some R&R as their old fur slowly peels off so it can be replaced by a spanking new one.
Of course, the interminable 'dominancy' fighting also takes place on a regular basis much to the delight of excited onlookers.
In the Water

..and on Land

At this time of year though, the fighting doesn't draw blood as in the winter months when they're establishing territory or mating rights. Of course, scientists can only guess at why male elephant seals tussle endlessly with one another. Maybe it's simply to climb up the hierarchal ladder, or maybe it's an old beef from a previous encounter, or maybe it's just plain dislike of another, or maybe it's just a case of the grumpies.
Whatever the case may be, the larger male elephant seals will be on their favorite central California beaches for most of the summer leaving after this respite for yet another bout of feeding to get ready for the all-important winter months ashore.

Click here for photos of some of the almost unbelievably large adult male elephant seals as they go about their daily routines.

Click here to see a cute video of an adult male checking me out...and wondering what I am.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Elephant Seals on the Pocket Beaches

Females Resting Onshore               Males Challenging in a Bay 
At this time of year, when both the females and males of all ages excluding the adult males come ashore to experience their catastrophic molt, they often choose separate pocket beaches. Maybe they do so because the females don't want to be mounted all the time by young males....and maybe because the males are more intent on asserting their strength, both mental and physical, over each other.

Click here to see photos of both groups.

Although both sexes tend to sleep quite a bit, therein ends the likeness. The once-again pregnant females crowd onto the small beaches and spend much of their time squabbling about one thing or another as they wait not so patiently for the time when they'll leave the central California shores to feed themselves and their growing fetus. How they decide when to leave again is not known. Maybe their hunger pangs get too strong, or maybe they somehow know that their favorite meals are out and about. One thing that is obvious, is that the females seem to prefer spending their time ashore, often on beds of cooling kelp rather than in the chilly Pacific Ocean.

Click here to see video of some of the females.

The males, on the other hand, tend to occupy their coastal-time by constantly challenging other males. These challenges take place both in the shallows as well as on land. From the day they're born, male elephant seals almost constantly challenge one another...presumably for supremacy.

Click here to see video of some males relaxing in a bay.

These groups will soon be on their way in search of food, and won't return to these shores until early fall. The next group to come ashore starting in late June will be the adult males.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Female Catastrophic Molting Time

Many of the females of all ages are now lounging around our beaches as their old fur along with its skin peels off to reveal their nice new silver gray fur ready for use.

This is probably the only time of year that the females actually club together without too much bickering. For some reason, these newly impregnated females nearly always seem at odds with elephant seals of all ages and of both sexes. Maybe it has something to do with that they're either being mounted and/or pregnant for most of their adult lives !?

Click here to see video of some of our current female visitors.

Along with the females, you can see youngsters born a couple or three years ago as well as few weaners from this recent birthing season.

As we head into May, more of the young males will be showing up to take their turn at the catastrophic molt. These are the fun ones to watch as they're almost constantly on the move and participating in numerous hierarchical physical bouts.

Click here for more photos of the current visitors.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Mainly Weaners

As March draws to a close, the pups which were born this birthing season have since been renamed weaners. ( I don't know who came up with this 'ingenious' terminology at some point in time.) The pups are weaned abruptly from their moms after feeding almost non-stop for about 4 weeks and gaining anywhere from a couple of hundred pounds to even as much as 7 times their original birth weight in this relatively short nursing period. The moms are hungry and eager to get back out to sea to replenish their lost body weight, which means that the newly weaned pups AKA weaners are pretty much left to fend for themselves. However, a few young adult males can still be seen hanging around the beaches maybe to protect these youngsters from immediate harm. After all, coyotes do sometimes traverse the beaches in search of food !

The weaners will remain on the beaches for about another month or so living off the fat-rich milk they ingested from their moms. During this time, they'll practice the art of swimming and diving in protected tide-pools or creeks to build up their muscle strength. Also, the black/brown pup fur will finish shedding and reveal the sleek new silver-gray fur associated with weaners.

Weaners are very chummy and like to talk and physically interact with one another. The males are already starting their practice fights and setting up supremacy ladders. The females are quieter...they don't practice fight like the males. Instead, they do a lot of stretching, fending off male weaners, and sleeping. Weaners do need to sleep a lot in order to preserve their body fat for as long as possible. Sometimes, you can even see weaners testing out the edibility of dry kelp, sticks or other objects lying on the beaches.

Click here to watch a video of weaners enjoying early morning time in a creek.

Eventually, the weaners will decide it's time to start seriously looking for food and start beach-hopping in search of nourishment. During this time, they'll also hone their life-necessary fishing skills. Most weaners will head northward following the trails of the adult elephant seals. Then they'll return again to the vicinity of their birthing beach in the late summer/early fall in a period called the Fall Haul-Out when they'll rest, practice fight, and generally socialize for about a month.

Click here to see more photos of these captivating weaners.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Pups, Weaners, and Mating

Pup Pleading with Mom for More Milk

With the 2013 birthing season drawing to a close, a few young pups can still be observed suckling on the beaches. However, mostly you can see pups that were born 2 to 3 weeks ago along with the increasing numbers of weaners AKA weaned pups as the moms quickly dash off to feed leaving their offspring to fend for themselves.

Super Weaner

Click here to see video of some super weaners in action.

Super Weaner next to a Couple of Regular Size Weaners

Sand-flipping seems to be an instinctive behavior, not limited to sand. When on land, elephant seals will at times toss pebbles, seaweed or water on their backs. I believe that this behavior is an off-shoot from when they're in the ocean and want to be left alone or escape whatever is bothering them. The backwards scooping action of the fore-flipper is the same both on land and in the sea. On land the flying debris definitely acts as a deterrent or signals a displeasure on the part of the flipping elephant seal. The art of sand-flipping can be seen even in young pups.  ( Maybe they even believe they become invisible by this action !? )

Elephant seals, like many other animals and birds, have nictating eyelids that they can quickly move across their big eyes as protection. Another form of protection for their eyes when on land is the oil secretions that lubricate and constantly wash irritating particles away.

Click here to see more of the current local visitors.

And who says elephant seals don't experience feelings ?

" Oh, my gosh ! "

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Pups Still Suckling as Mating Picks Up Steam

It's a busy time on the beaches now....probably the busiest of the whole year. You have the sub-adult males competing with the adult males and alpha males, females of varying ages feeding their pups and trying to keep amorous males at bay, and then there are the pups themselves, Some of whom, have been around for over a month now and have been renamed weaners as their moms have quickly weaned them and taken off to eat. and there you can see a few stragglers born two to three years ago that have chosen to remain on the beaches rather than go fishing.

For the most part you don't see pups interacting with one another, but when one female takes care of multiple pups for whatever reason, you get to see sibling rivalry and affection.

Click here to see pictures of current inhabitants.

The big males are starting to get antsy as females that gave birth early on in the birthing season come into heat. The females are hungry and want to eat but the males want to mate and won't let the females leave until this has been accomplished or, at least attempted. Many males seem inclined to mate with the more compliant younger females before tackling the more opinionated, feisty older 'ladies'. Mating takes place on land or the shallows where the males can get a firm grip on the oftentimes reluctant females.
( In water, the females are far more agile and can easily outswim a male.)

Click here to see photos of males attempting to mate.

All females, but especially the older ones, have quite a few weapons in their arsenal when it comes to fending off amorous males. They can wiggle and squirm making it hard for the male to get a good grip. They can throw sand in his eyes and face. They will bark threateningly or protest loudly. They will even bite or try to bite the neck of the much bigger and stronger male. If a female keeps this up long enough, the male will back down and wait for a more opportune moment.

Click here to see video of males trying to get females to mate.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Pups, Pups, and More Pups

As we near the middle of January, more and more black, fuzzy elephant seal pups can be seen as well as heard as they hungrily cry out for still more of that fat-rich milk stored in their moms.

If a pup during its first two weeks of life gets pulled into the ocean too many times, it will probably die from hypothermia as it won't have enough fat to protect it from the chilly waters of the Pacific. As marine mammals, pups can instinctively swim but aren't yet equipped with the necessary body warming fat that they will have after feeding for another week or so.

Click here to see video of shivering pups.

People often ask me how to tell the difference between male and female pups. The easiest way is when you can see the underside, but, of course, the pups don't usually co-operate. So, this means looking at the overall size of the pup, the shape of its head, the shape of its fore-flippers, and its behavior.

Male pups generally tend to be bigger and more rambunctious than their female counterparts. Their heads tend to be broader as do their fore-flippers. Male pups also often tend to boss their moms whereas female pups often look anxious and tend to cry in a more beseeching manner.

After a pup is born, the mom often tries to hide the bloody afterbirth by covering it up with sand. But, the sharp eyes of the clean-up crews of gulls will soon hone in on this delicacy and down they'll swoop.

When visiting the central coast of California, you will not only be treated to the antics of the elephant seals but might also be privy to a variety of activities performed by some of the other inhabitants of the coastal areas.

There are two kinds of egrets that seem to enjoy the coastal bluffs, the great white egret and the snowy egret. Both of whom like to spend hours fishing.

One of the most noticeable and commonly-seen birds is the large carnivorous California vulture - a nervous bird that feeds on members of the animal kingdom that are very dead and smelly. A few days after the death of a pup, vultures, as well as gulls, can often be seen doing their part in keeping the beaches clean as they meticulously devour each scrap of meat on the bones of a poor youngster.

Cheeky brown ground squirrels are also in abundance, and you might even spot a graceful great blue heron.

Returning to Elephant Seal Land, the birthing season is moving swiftly along with the rapid growth of the pups who will only get this fat-rich milk for 3-4 weeks before mom will dash off to feed herself leaving her pup to fend for itself. During this hectic time, males of many ages and sizes will attempt to mate with any and all females whether they're ready or not. ( I'll take this up in my next posting. )

In the meantime, click here for portraits of some cuddly pups.