Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Weanerville

As the month of February comes to a close, the winds are howling, massive waves are crashing against the beach, rain and hail pound the Farallones, and the thermometer has dropped to 8 degrees Celsius. But the chilly weather is no problem for an elephant seal weaner, wrapped in its thick layer of blubber. Some of the heftier pups are made up of 50 percent fat just after weaning, “much like the consistency of a fine camembert” as noted by one biologist with a sense of humor. Elephant seals are built to withstand extremely cold conditions deep below the surface of the sea, and in fact it is the warm rather than cold weather that makes them uncomfortable.

Most of the cows on SEFI have finished nursing their pups, mated with the harem bull, navigated through the minefield of additional adult males hoping for a chance to mate, and headed back out to sea to eat for the first time in over a month, leaving their pups to fend for themselves. The beaches and gulches of the Farallones have been turned over to the elephant seal weaners. The 2007 crop of over 100 weaners is scattered all over the marine terrace, Sand Flat, Mirounga Beach, and West End. They far outnumber the handful of cows still nursing their pups – only 11 left as of February 27 – and the 20 or so males still relentlessly fighting for the few remaining females. These males include Don Francisco and Bob Bond, who still reign over the Sand Flat and Mirounga Beach, respectively, and Bedlam Boy, Brendan, Salvatore, DMX, Frazier, Caramba, Gimli, Rumpelstiltskin, Jiggy, Humpback, and a few others still hanging around the periphery of the harems.

The weaners will stay on land for about a month after their mothers leave, to molt their lanugo (pup hair), splash in the puddles, play-fight with each other, sleep hard, and provide a constant source of entertainment for delighted biologists. When they are ready, they will enter the sea for the first time. On their very first dive, the weaners will swim deeper than most adults of other pinniped species. After gaining hunting experience, they will begin to conduct long, biannual migrations of thousands of miles to catch and eat cephalopods and fish in the deep ocean waters.


2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Any conclusions yet re the overall health of this year's colony? I've heard mixed reviews from other sites.

Thanks, and I really look forward to your postings.
rcferris

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