Thursday, December 08, 2005

Earliest elephant seal pup ever recorded on Farallones

Today saw the birth of the first elephant seal pup of the year. Born to the female named Giovanna, her pup is the earliest recorded birth in the 35 years of this colony's existence. Here is a video of the newborn crying to her mother, while JD, the alpha bull and probable father looks on. Giovanna will now nurse her pup for about 28 days on the richest milk of any mammal, swelling the pup from 60 pounds at birth, to over 300 pounds at weaning. During that time the mother will shrink, as she mobilizes her blubber to give to her pup.

Back at the end of the 1800s, Elephant seals were hunted for their blubber to the point where they were believed extinct. Only 50-100 animals remained on the planet, hidden on Isle de Guadalupe in Mexico. The Mexican Government protected the seal from further hunting, and their numbers grew until in 1971, the first pup was born at the newly-recolonized Farallon Islands. The Farallones and Point Reyes are now the northernmost breeding colonies for this species, although the adults range much farther north, even to Alaska, to feed themselves between visits to the Farallones. Similar to Gray Whales, the elephant seal migrates to Alaskan waters to gorge themselves on the rich feeding grounds there, then comes south to give birth in Mexico and California (Gray Whales used to calve in San Diego's Mission Bay). However, the whales migrate up and down once a year, while the elephant seal makes this migration twice a year! This makes them the mammal with the longest migratory distance travelled each year, over 13,000 miles for some males!
Conserving these amazing long-distance migrants requires the cooperation of 3 national governments, 8 state/provincial governments, and the many agencies and NGOs that look after our ocean and coastal resources along that route. PRBO Conservation Science, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary are the local partners who have an interest in the Farallones and their magnificent elephant seals.

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