Friday, February 10, 2006

Hot Winter Days- Seals hit the beaches

While we biologists have been enjoying the beautiful, sunny, warm (mid 60's) weather this week, the seals have not. Elephant seals are built for swimming in 40-degree water, not sun bathing on the beach. The calm, sunny, warm conditions don't just make the seals uncomfortable, it can kill them from overheating.
In the afternoon heat, the seals move to any source of water or shade. They splash water or sand or rocks over their backs to cool themselves. Some of the weaners on the Marine Terrace have been tossing Farallon weed, the most abundant vegetation on the island, onto their backs.

A few cows have found small puddles or tide pools of their own, but most try to cram into a few overcrowded spots with all the others. This results in chaos as the seals crowd into the puddle on Sand Flat (above, on a slightly cooler day, not quite as crowded as it has been this week) and down by the water's edge at Log Channel Beach (below). On these hot days, all the cows are grouchy and many fights erupt.
Unfortunately this chaos is bad news for the pups. Several pups have managed to get themselves stuck in Log Channel, requiring a long struggle to crawl back up. Others have fallen off ledges into the water below- a pretty terrifying first swimming lesson! A few have even been crushed or drowned as bigger seals pile on top of them while trying to get to the cooling water.

The hot weather has also resulted in a lot of new weaners this week. Many of the cows on Marine Terrace had been pups that were quite fat and able to be on their own. The first hot day of the week, these moms headed out to enjoy the cool waters at sea and to find their first meal in over a month. Now the Terrace is home to clusters of weaners who have stopped searching for mom and begun getting to know each other.

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