Monday, March 31, 2008

Elephant Seals

On the way back from Monterey we drove along the coast and stopped at the elephant seal rookery north of San Simeon. The website of the Friends of the Elephant Seals is full of great information about these animals. Click here to go to the site.

This time of year about the only seals on the beach were young of the year called at this point "weaners" since they were abruptly weaned when their mothers left to resume hunting in the ocean. These young seals will teach themselves to swim, and lose about one third of their body weight before learning to hunt.

Later in the fall, the males will come back to establish territories. While here, they do not hunt and by the time they return to the ocean in the late winter, they also will have lost about one third of their weight. The seals get their name from the large nose the male develops as he reaches sexual maturity.

Male seals may weigh as much as 5,000 pounds! Elephant seals were hunted almost to extinction for their blubber which was rendered into oil. A small population survived, and with the protection granted them by the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the population has recovered to about 170,000 members.

Females begin to give birth in late December, and nurse their young with the richest milk of any mammal. The pups gain weight quickly, and are weaned by March. 

These animals are of particular interest to biologists, because of their amazing diving abilities.The record dive was to 5,000 feet! To compare the diving ability of elephant seals with other mammals click here

No comments: