Saturday, January 13, 2007

Nero Goes from Hero to Zero

Early this morning, biologist Shawn Farry went to check the beach and discovered a phenomenal sight. Nero, the Sand Flat bull, was dead in Log Channel from severe head wounds. From the evidence we found, it appears that Nero and Don Francisco fought an epic battle that ended when Nero’s head was crushed in Don's jaws. We are all still reeling from the shock. Now that we were able to get a very close look at Nero, we were overwhelmed by his size and bulk. He was nearly 5 meters long, and 5 meters around the chest (sadly we didn’t have the equipment to weigh such a massive creature, but he likely weighed thousands of pounds). In the picture below, biologist Derek Lee prepares to take measurements.

The loss of Nero left a power vacuum on the Sand Flat. First, Aubrey (a tough fighter but not quite a bull) rushed onto Sand Flat and promptly and excitedly attempted to mate with numerous females – most of them with young pups and not yet sexually receptive. Not surprisingly, the females snarled their protest. Salvatore, a bull who had been hanging on the periphery of the Sand Flat and previously fled whenever Nero displayed his nose and bellowed, heard the ruckus and looked up from his nap. Realizing that Nero was gone, Salvatore fought Aubrey for 20 minutes across Sand Flat and Log Channel Beach, finally beating him soundly. The picture above shows Salvatore chasing a fleeing Aubrey.

With hormones still raging, Salvatore then attempted to challenge Don at Mirounga Beach. Don beat Salvatore and Salvatore retreated within about a minute. Apparently Don Francisco is the current alpha bull of SEFI, but he hasn’t yet taken over Sand Flat, the island’s largest harem. Time will tell where all the remaining males will end up, but this shake-up was certainly one of the most exciting days of the season.

We also had our first weaner today. Cow -27 was nowhere to be seen, and her pup was looking round and healthy after more than 3 weeks of nursing the richest, fattiest milk in the animal kingdom. It is likely that the weaner is the offspring of Nero from last year. While Nero’s life ended brutally after only one full year as alpha bull, he probably sired more than 90 pups.


Anonymous said...

Oh my, what an ending for the big guy! That must have been an incredible sight, seeing that massive bull dead in Log Channel. It will be interesting to see, who will take over the Sand Flat or if the ongoing season will see more battles for dominance under those young bulls and SA4s. Is there a video of the fight between Salvatore and Aubrey?
I'm loving the blog, thanks for the regular updates!

Old Europe

Demarcated Landscapes said...

Oh no! Poor Nero! But I never liked him anyway, the big nosey bully. JD got his revenge I guess, sort of. What are you going to do with that enormous carcass? As scientists trying not to disrupt things too much do you have to just leave it there? Man, I predict that thing is going to stink.

No. 1 Fan

Anonymous said...

Woah, my jaw actually dropped when I read this one :0 I second Danny's request - any video footage of the fighting? Can't wait to see what happens to Sand Flat - I feel for those cows who are at the mercy of the violent testosteroney males while no one's in charge!

Anonymous said...

That is an astounding image of Derek Lee measuring the carcass of Nero! Even though we give the animals cute names and we get oh, so attached to them, the sad and shocking image is a vivid reminder that these are wild animals following their instints under difficult circumstances, and that the scientists of prbo are on the islands to observe, record and hopefully protect them. It's hard work under harsh coonditions. Thanks to the prbo staff for sharing this with us.

Anonymous said...

WOW! That's crazy! That must have been an amazing fight - too bad no one actually got to see Don Francisco's rise to power. With the names these bulls have, this whole saga sounds like something out of the Godfather (maybe Salvatore put out a contract on Nero and Don Francisco whacked him?) It will be really interesting to see what happens next. Could even be a behavioral study for an ambitious intern. I see a paper on the social interactions of male eseals in response to the death of the alpha male during the breeding season. In any case it should be fun to watch. Keep the posts coming, I'm hooked.

Los Farallones said...

Hey guys. Thanks for your comments -- we knew this one would generate some interest! It sure was a major shock to see Nero dead on the beach. No. 1 Fan asked what we are going to do with the carcass -- great question. We took a bunch of measurements (including investigating the damage to the skull -- it was crushed in numerous areas) and...had to just walk away and leave the body to the mercy of the gulls. They'll be feeding on it for months and months. It does stink a bit, especially in combination with the dead sea lion in Mirounga Beach, the dead immature on Sand Flat, and the multiple dead pups scattered throughout the beaches. We have to walk quickly by the stinky areas!

Unfortunately we don't have footage of Don v. Nero, but we do have awesome video of Salvatore v Aubrey and Rusty v Aubrey. We're still figuring how how to load it onto the blog -- keep checking!

By the way, Don now took Sand Flat (62 cows), Rusty has Mirounga Beach (17 cows), Brendan has the marine terrace (12 cows), and Salvatore is trying to take the part of Sand Flat near Breaker Terrace. We have 6 weaners so far.

-Los Farallones