Author Topic: Return of the Elephant Seal  (Read 3056 times)

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Offline woodsorrel

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Return of the Elephant Seal
« on: March 07, 2015, 08:38:43 AM »
Hi Everyone!

What animal is the size of a Chevy Suburban, weighs as much as two American football teams (offence and defense), and dives 2,000 feet below the ocean's surface?





January is the best month to visit the elephant seal colony where I live.  The beach is swarming with gigantic males battling for territory.  Females are giving birth and nursing their young.  But my visit this year occurred at the end of February.  By this time most of the seals have returned to sea.  The population is dominated by weaners.

Weaners are elephant seal babies that have finished nursing.  But they are not fully developed.  Their eyesight is poor, they do not know how to swim, and they do not know what to eat.  So they hang out in groups on the beach and try not to get trampled by rampaging males.    They continue to develop and begin to explore their surroundings.  This makes trouble for the park rangers and docents.  The weaners end up in unexpected places.

Here is a picture of a weaner:




The colony is at Ano Nuevo, in northern California.  The setting is spectacular.




It was interesting to visit the colony so late in the mating season.  While I missed the large males, there was still plenty to see.  We had to detour around weaners, we saw some of the life and death on the beach, and we witnessed the gauntlet that females have to run to return to sea.  We also found a midden hidden beneath the sand.

Here are more pictures and details of the trip as well as facts about elephant seals.

Elephant Seals at Ano Nuevo


Has anyone had the chance to walk through a large colony of animals before?


- Woodsorrel
« Last Edit: March 07, 2015, 09:06:18 AM by woodsorrel »
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Offline madmax

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Re: Return of the Elephant Seal
« Reply #1 on: March 07, 2015, 08:48:56 AM »
Only in Cali could you say, "Hey!  Look at that buncha weaners,"   on the beach and not get some wide eyed stares.
"Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving pretty with a well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways in a cloud of smoke, thouroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming, Wow! What a ride!" 
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Offline woodsorrel

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Re: Return of the Elephant Seal
« Reply #2 on: March 07, 2015, 08:56:36 AM »
Only in Cali could you say, "Hey!  Look at that buncha weaners,"   on the beach and not get some wide eyed stares.

That is funny!

But it depends on the beach...  :D

- Woodsorrel
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Offline Dano

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Re: Return of the Elephant Seal
« Reply #3 on: March 07, 2015, 01:25:50 PM »
Thanks for sharing this and the link, I learned a lot more about them than I knew.  While i knew they were big, I had no idea they were that large, nor that the weaners are underdeveloped.  Do the majority of them develop alone, or do the females return to assist them?   Sounds like if you see one on land that's not eating, it probably doesn't bode well.  Curious if the majority survive.

Offline woodsorrel

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Re: Return of the Elephant Seal
« Reply #4 on: March 07, 2015, 05:17:24 PM »
Thanks for sharing this and the link, I learned a lot more about them than I knew.  While i knew they were big, I had no idea they were that large, nor that the weaners are underdeveloped.  Do the majority of them develop alone, or do the females return to assist them?   Sounds like if you see one on land that's not eating, it probably doesn't bode well.  Curious if the majority survive.

Dano, the mother nurses the infant for one month.  Then she leaves the beach.  They will never see each other again.

The weaners remain on the beach to develop and practice their swimming.  The entire time they are losing weight.  Finally, they make a dash through the ring of great white sharks into the deep ocean.  My understanding is the mortality rate approaches 50%.  I did not mention it in my notes, but I saw three dead weaners while walking along the beach.  One or two looked like they might have starved or been squashed.  But one of the bodies looked as if it was attacked at sea and washed back up to the beach.

My understanding is that if they make it to sea, their odds are pretty good.  While at sea, they live a solitary life hunting food in the ocean depths. 

When they come ashore to give birth and mate, both the males and females stake out territory on the beach.  So they never leave --- for 3+ months!  They live off their blubber the entire time and lose more than a third of their body weight.  If they do leave to hunt, another will seize their spot or harem.  That is why, if you see an elephant seal on land, you know it's not eating.  They play an amazing game of "energy balance." 

- Woodsorrel
The best backpacks are named for national parks or mountain ranges. Steer clear of those named for landfills.
Bushcraft tips and tricks:  www.NatureOutside.c om

Offline wolfy

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Re: Return of the Elephant Seal
« Reply #5 on: March 07, 2015, 05:21:24 PM »
That's a pretty strange existance. ???
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Offline wsdstan

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Re: Return of the Elephant Seal
« Reply #6 on: March 07, 2015, 05:51:08 PM »
I was surprised at the size of these seals.  It says they run 16' long and 6,600 pounds with the largest going 20' and weighing 8,800 pounds.  Incredible.  I can see why they were hunted to near extinction if they stay in one spot and on land for three months. 
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Offline wolfy

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Re: Return of the Elephant Seal
« Reply #7 on: March 07, 2015, 05:55:11 PM »
I've watched those bulls battling over breeding rights on NatGeo a couple of times.....I was surprised at the size of ther 'fangs' and how badly they cut each other up in the process! :shocked:
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Offline woodsorrel

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Re: Return of the Elephant Seal
« Reply #8 on: March 07, 2015, 05:56:21 PM »
That's a pretty strange existance. ???

... says the hominid sitting in his climate controlled shelter pressing buttons on an electronic machine.   ;)

- Woodsorrel
The best backpacks are named for national parks or mountain ranges. Steer clear of those named for landfills.
Bushcraft tips and tricks:  www.NatureOutside.c om

Offline woodsorrel

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Re: Return of the Elephant Seal
« Reply #9 on: March 07, 2015, 06:00:40 PM »
I was surprised at the size of these seals.  It says they run 16' long and 6,600 pounds with the largest going 20' and weighing 8,800 pounds.  Incredible.  I can see why they were hunted to near extinction if they stay in one spot and on land for three months.

It is more than that, wsdstan.  The elephant seals are so large they simply do not perceive humans as a threat.  The guides are there to keep tourists from getting between rampaging bulls.  But the seals themselves really don't give a hoot about you walking through the middle of their colony.  That's what makes the experience special.  But it made them easy marks for human hunters.

I wonder if the "elephant seal experience" is anything like what I hear people describe when they return from the Galapagos Islands?

- Woodsorrel
The best backpacks are named for national parks or mountain ranges. Steer clear of those named for landfills.
Bushcraft tips and tricks:  www.NatureOutside.c om

Offline woodsorrel

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Re: Return of the Elephant Seal
« Reply #10 on: March 07, 2015, 06:04:05 PM »
I've watched those bulls battling over breeding rights on NatGeo a couple of times.....I was surprised at the size of ther 'fangs' and how badly they cut each other up in the process! :shocked:

It's true.  They have adapted special "chest shields" to protect themselves.  Old bulls have shields covered with battle scars.  I have seen fights where blood went flying through the air with each impact. 

- Woodsorrel
The best backpacks are named for national parks or mountain ranges. Steer clear of those named for landfills.
Bushcraft tips and tricks:  www.NatureOutside.c om