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Saturday, January 19, 2013

THE GREAT ELEPHANT SEAL SAGA

As you know from yesterday's post (if you read it), SWMBO and I have just returned from a visit with our friends, the Cochruns, on the central California coast.  While there they took us to view the birthing area of the elephant seals.


This may look like the seals' graveyard but I can assure you it is not. There are upwards of a thousand males, females and newborn babies along this sandy beach nearly directly across the highway from the Hearst Castle.


When the pups are born they first identify with their mothers by sounds.  You can hear them yelping in their high pitched voices, which I assume means they want more milk from their mothers.  And they get it.



There is considerable territoriality among the seals.  Occasionally a couple of females will get into a roaring session.


The male, having found a secluded spot, naps and naps and naps.  After all he's fathered as many as 40 pups in his harem.  By the way, the males can weigh as much as 5,000 pounds!


The pups are weaned after about four weeks as the mother abruptly leaves them, mates and heads out to sea once more.  The males swim north along the coast as far as the furthest Aleutian Islands.  The females have been tracked two-thirds of the way to Japan.

It is important that the pups gain up to 300 pounds by the time they become "weaners", as they are called then because it takes 8 to 10 weeks for it to learn to swim well enough to head north looking for food.

I was surprised, with their huge weight, how fast the animals can move.  Take a look at this female moving across the beach.

video

And one more video.  This one shows a male driving a competitor away.  Amazingly he backs right over a young pup but he seems not the worse for wear.

video

The area is protected by a volunteer non-profit organization, Friends of the Elephant Seal.  There is a wooden walkway with railings along a lengthy section of the beach for visitors from all over the world.  You can learn more and view a LiveCam of the activity on the beach by visiting their website at Friends of the Elephant Seal.  

7 comments:

  1. This would seem like a wonderful life were it not for the sharks that inevitably prey on these seals and pups.

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  2. I had no idea such a thing happened there. We visited the Hearst Castle in December, 2006. Wonder when their birthing season begins? If they were there that early I would have loved to gone to see them. Your videos are the next best things. Thanks. :)

    S

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  3. Bruce-
    Great report. Nice video, I would add the pups can nurse for up to six weeks, but that's it. As you say, they need to get their weight by then that will last until they feed.

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  4. Great pictures, video, and commentary. I figure that sight is something you could watch for hours.

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  5. They are an amazing sight. What giant creatures. Thanks for the tour!

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